GOP Pushing to Speed Up Deployment of Advanced Interceptors in Poland

A Standard Missile 3 Block 1B interceptor is launched from the USS Lake Erie during an intercept test last September near Hawaii. Senate Republicans want to speed up deployment to Poland of a next-generation version of the interceptor in response to heightened East-West tensions.
National Journal
Rachel Oswald
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Rachel Oswald
May 6, 2014, 10:46 a.m.

Sen­ate Re­pub­lic­ans are push­ing for the U.S. mil­it­ary to speed up de­ploy­ment of ad­vanced in­ter­cept­ors in Po­land to send a de­terrent mes­sage to Rus­sia.

A bill in­tro­duced last week by Sen­at­or Bob Cork­er (R-Tenn.) and 22 oth­er GOP mem­bers of his cham­ber would re­quire the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion to provide a plan for how to achieve de­ploy­ment of Phase 3 of the “Phased Ad­apt­ive Ap­proach” for European mis­sile de­fense by the end of 2016.

An­ti­mis­sile as­sets un­der the third phase cur­rently are not planned for field­ing in Po­land un­til late 2018, at the earli­est.

The Rus­si­an Ag­gres­sion Pre­ven­tion Act also gives the U.S. gov­ern­ment the op­tion of de­vel­op­ing a dif­fer­ent plan for provid­ing “al­tern­at­ive [an­ti­mis­sile] cap­ab­il­it­ies to pro­tect NATO al­lies in Europe and Euras­ia.”

Though the Cork­er le­gis­la­tion has con­sid­er­able sup­port from seni­or Sen­ate Re­pub­lic­ans, the lack of a single co-spon­sor across the aisle does not bode well for its chances of pas­sage this year in the Demo­crat-led up­per le­gis­lat­ive cham­ber.

An ad­di­tion­al bill pro­vi­sion that would ban the re­duc­tion of long-range nuc­le­ar-de­liv­ery vehicles un­der the New START ac­cord with Rus­sia also is likely to be un­pal­at­able to the White House.

“The bill is littered with veto bait,” said King­ston Re­if, an ana­lyst with the Cen­ter for Arms Con­trol and Non­pro­lif­er­a­tion.

Mi­chaela Dodge, a stra­tegic de­fense policy ana­lyst at the Her­it­age Found­a­tion, in a phone in­ter­view last week said she be­lieved it made sense to ac­cel­er­ate de­ploy­ment of an­ti­mis­sile sys­tems in Europe.

“I think it’s an im­port­ant step,” she said, not­ing that Rus­sia ap­pears to be in vi­ol­a­tion of the In­ter­me­di­ate-Range Nuc­le­ar Forces Treaty and his­tor­ic­ally has been op­posed to U.S. mis­sile de­fenses in Europe.

Dodge ac­know­ledged, though, that spend­ing more money on such plans might be a dif­fi­cult pro­pos­i­tion, giv­en that oth­er pro­grams also are com­pet­ing for mis­sile de­fense dol­lars.

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion has con­sist­ently main­tained that the in­ter­cept­ors it en­vi­sions de­ploy­ing in Europe do not have the tech­nic­al ca­pa­city to threaten Rus­si­an in­ter­con­tin­ent­al bal­list­ic mis­siles. The Krem­lin has re­fused to ac­cept these polit­ic­al as­sur­ances ab­sent a leg­ally bind­ing agree­ment on the us­age of the U.S. an­ti­mis­sile sys­tems.

Re­if ques­tioned the wis­dom of pur­su­ing any ac­tion that would seem to val­id­ate Mo­scow’s long­stand­ing fears about U.S. mis­sile de­fense plans.

“Des­pite the cur­rent ten­sions with Rus­sia, it is not in the U.S. na­tion­al in­terest to feed the Rus­si­an sus­pi­cion that the [European Phased Ad­apt­ive Ap­proach] is dir­ec­ted at them — an im­pres­sion we have spent years try­ing to dis­pel,” he said in an email.

U.S. De­fense Sec­ret­ary Chuck Hagel, dur­ing a Pentagon press con­fer­ence last month with his Pol­ish coun­ter­part, said the United States re­serves the right to “ad­just” its sched­ule for de­ploy­ing mis­sile de­fenses in Europe.

Un­der the cur­rent stated plan for Phase 3, the next-gen­er­a­tion Stand­ard Mis­sile 3 Block 2A in­ter­cept­or is to be fielded at a still-to-be-con­struc­ted site in Redziko­wo, Po­land, in 2018.

However, Pentagon of­fi­cials have quietly ac­know­ledged that “some cap­ab­il­it­ies pre­vi­ously planned for de­liv­ery by 2018 are now ex­pec­ted by 2020 or later,” ac­cord­ing to a March audit by the Gov­ern­ment Ac­count­ab­il­ity Of­fice.

Fur­ther­more, the GAO re­port found that some un­spe­cified Phase 3 sys­tems were still too early in the de­vel­op­ment stage to know wheth­er tech­no­logy or per­form­ance prob­lems were likely to be en­countered. There has yet to be a flight tri­al or in­ter­cept test of the Block 2A in­ter­cept­or.

As the United States is co-de­vel­op­ing the ad­vanced mis­sile in­ter­cept­or with Ja­pan, there is only so much that Con­gress can do to rush its de­vel­op­ment, Re­if as­ser­ted.

Dodge ar­gued, however, that the po­ten­tial for achiev­ing an early im­ple­ment­a­tion of Phase 3 still ex­ists. She noted that the Stand­ard Mis­sile 3 in­ter­cept­or class has had an over­all “really good” test­ing re­cord. She said the Pentagon could at least ad­vance the start date for break­ing ground on the in­ter­cept­or site at Redziko­wo.

Yet, the GAO re­port flagged as po­ten­tially prob­lem­at­ic the cur­rent Pentagon plan of de­vel­op­ing some Phase 3 tech­no­lo­gies, while sim­ul­tan­eously de­ploy­ing and in­teg­rat­ing them with oth­er mis­sile de­fense sys­tems.

Cit­ing the con­gres­sion­al aud­it­ors’ find­ings, Re­if ar­gued that there were too many de­vel­op­ment­al risks to the gov­ern­ment speed­ing up work on the Block 2A in­ter­cept­or.

“Phase 3 has already been delayed un­til 2020,” he said. “At­tempt­ing to ac­cel­er­ate im­ple­ment­a­tion would surely ex­acer­bate their con­cur­rency prob­lems.”

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