Land-Based Aegis System Undergoes First Test Launch

The deck house for the Aegis Ashore system at the Pacific Missile Range Facility, as seen in January. The antimissile system, which is planned for fielding in Romania and Poland, conducted a successful first test-launch of an interceptor on Tuesday.
National Journal
Rachel Oswald
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Rachel Oswald
May 21, 2014, 8:37 a.m.

The land-based ver­sion of a U.S. an­ti­mis­sile sys­tem in­ten­ded for European de­ploy­ment had an ini­tial test-launch on Tues­day, the De­fense De­part­ment says.

A Pentagon news re­lease de­scribes the tri­al flight of the Ae­gis Ashore sys­tem as suc­cess­ful. It took place shortly after 7:30 p.m. loc­al time at the Pa­cific Mis­sile Range Fa­cil­ity and at a com­plex spe­cially set up for test­ing the mis­sile de­fense tech­no­logy.

The De­fense De­part­ment said the event con­firmed the func­tion­al­ity of Ae­gis Ashore com­pon­ents that de­tec­ted and mon­itored a sim­u­lated bal­list­ic mis­sile threat and then fired a land-based Stand­ard Mis­sile 3 Block 1B in­ter­cept­or in re­sponse.  No live tar­get was used in the tri­al.

Ae­gis Ashore and two dozen Block 1B in­ter­cept­ors are planned for field­ing in Ro­mania next year as part of the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s “phased ad­apt­ive ap­proach” for provid­ing mis­sile pro­tec­tion to European NATO mem­bers. The White House on Tues­day said the Ro­mania site “is firmly on budget and on sched­ule to be op­er­a­tion­al by the end of 2015.” A fol­low-on Ae­gis Ashore site with more cap­able SM-3 in­ter­cept­ors is planned for field­ing in Po­land in the 2018-2020 time­frame.

The United States is also cur­rently field­ing a planned total of four Ae­gis-equipped war­ships to the Medi­ter­ranean in sup­port of the NATO bal­list­ic mis­sile shield. However, hav­ing a land-based ver­sion of the tech­no­logy of­fers some im­port­ant ad­vant­ages, ac­cord­ing to the Mis­sile De­fense Ad­vocacy Al­li­ance.

“Pla­cing the sys­tem on ground at a fixed site en­hances its 24/7 per­sist­ence, ac­cur­acy and com­mu­nic­a­tion, fur­ther in­creas­ing the in­ter­cept­ors’ cap­ab­il­ity,” the ad­vocacy group said in a press re­lease. “Be­ing ded­ic­ated to the sin­gu­lar mis­sion of mis­sile de­fense per­mits the full use of its pro­cessing power, as op­posed to shar­ing that power for mul­tiple mis­sions that a ship would be re­quired to do.”

Achiev­ing a timely ac­tiv­a­tion of the Ae­gis Ashore site in Deveselu, Ro­mania, has taken on a new polit­ic­al im­port­ance amid re­sur­gent NATO ten­sions with Rus­sia. The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion is care­ful to note in pub­lic that planned an­ti­mis­sile sys­tems for Europe are not tech­nic­ally cap­able of coun­ter­ing Rus­sia’s stra­tegic nuc­le­ar mis­siles. Still, some Re­pub­lic­an law­makers have called for speed­ing up the SM-3 in­ter­cept­or de­ploy­ment sched­ule in or­der to send a de­terrent sig­nal to Mo­scow and re­as­sure al­lies in East­ern Europe.

While the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cially op­poses a House ef­fort to set man­dates on the tim­ing of the field­ing of an­ti­mis­sile sys­tems in Po­land, it has dis­patched Ae­gis-equipped war­ships to the Black Sea to bol­ster the con­fid­ence of NATO mem­bers.

The USS Don­ald Cook guided-mis­sile des­troy­er spent sev­er­al weeks in the Black Sea earli­er this spring. The USS Vella Gulf is slated to shortly enter the area “to con­duct port vis­its and com­bined mari­time train­ing with al­lied nav­al forces, ac­cord­ing to a White House fact sheet on bi­lat­er­al re­as­sur­ance meas­ures with Ro­mania

Dur­ing a speech to U.S. and Ro­mani­an troops at the Otopeni mil­it­ary base near Bucharest on Tues­day, U.S. Vice Pres­id­ent Joe Biden em­phas­ized that the U.S. com­mit­ment to the col­lect­ive de­fense of NATO “is a sac­red ob­lig­a­tion in our view.”

“I’m here to say on be­half of the pres­id­ent … You can count on us. Peri­od,” the vice pres­id­ent said. “We do what we say, and we mean what we say.”

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