U.S. Lawmakers Explore Faster Missile-Interceptor Fielding in Europe

A U.S. Standard Missile 3 Block 1B missile interceptor is launched from the USS Lake Erie during a successful October intercept trial. Lawmakers are examining the potential of speeding up deployment of the antimissile technology in Europe, amid concerns about any further Russian aggression on the continent.
National Journal
Rachel Oswald
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Rachel Oswald
April 3, 2014, 10:39 a.m.

Some U.S. law­makers are ex­plor­ing the po­ten­tial for speed­ing up mis­sile-in­ter­cept­or de­ploy­ments in Europe amid con­cerns over re­cent Rus­si­an ag­gres­sion.

The United States is cur­rently plan­ning on field­ing mod­ern­ized Stand­ard Mis­sile 3 Block 1B in­ter­cept­ors on war­ships home-por­ted in Spain and at a base in Ro­mania be­gin­ning in 2015. A more-cap­able mis­sile, the Block 2A in­ter­cept­or, is slated for de­ploy­ment in Po­land start­ing in 2018. But that time sched­ule might not be fast enough for some mem­bers of Con­gress, who are eager to send a de­terrence mes­sage to Rus­si­an Pres­id­ent Vladi­mir Putin, fol­low­ing his an­nex­a­tion last month of Ukraine’s Crimean Pen­in­sula.

Re­fer­ring to those de­ploy­ment plans, Sen­at­or Joe Don­nelly (D-Ind.) at a Wed­nes­day Sen­ate Armed Ser­vices sub­com­mit­tee hear­ing ob­served that while the mis­sile in­ter­cept­ors were in­ten­ded to pro­tect NATO ter­rit­ory against a mis­sile strike from the Middle East, they were “of sig­ni­fic­ant con­cern to Mr. Putin as well.”

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion has re­peatedly em­phas­ized that the an­ti­mis­sile sys­tems planned for European in­stall­a­tions do not have the tech­nic­al ca­pa­city to chal­lenge Rus­si­an stra­tegic bal­list­ic mis­siles. Rather, the U.S. in­ter­cept­ors are de­signed to tar­get short-, me­di­um- and in­ter­me­di­ate-range bal­list­ic mis­siles, Wash­ing­ton says.

Mo­scow is for­bid­den un­der a 1987 nuc­le­ar arms con­trol treaty with the United States from pos­sess­ing any mis­siles with ranges between 300 and 3,400 miles. However, ser­i­ous con­cerns have been raised in re­cent weeks in the United States about Rus­sia’s com­pli­ance with the ac­cord.

At a House Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee sub­com­mit­tee hear­ing last week, U.S. Rep­res­ent­at­ive Mike Ro­gers (R-Ala.) asked the head of the Pentagon’s Mis­sile De­fense Agency wheth­er, “as a con­sequence of the Ukrain­i­an activ­ity by Rus­sia,” de­ploy­ment of mis­sile in­ter­cept­ors in Po­land could be hastened if more fund­ing were provided.

“We’ve ana­lyzed that,” agency Dir­ect­or Vice Adm. James Syr­ing re­spon­ded. “It can be done quick­er if money were avail­able, but the budget re­quest sup­ports a 2018 field­ing at this point.”

Don­nelly pressed the is­sue fur­ther in ques­tion­ing M. Elaine Bunn, the deputy as­sist­ant sec­ret­ary of De­fense for nuc­le­ar and mis­sile de­fense policy, on Wed­nes­day about pos­sible new talks with Ro­mania and Po­land.

“Have we talked to them about mov­ing up those timelines?” the In­di­ana Demo­crat asked. “Mr. Putin ap­par­ently has no in­terest in timelines. And so, you know, he’s not go­ing to wait for 2018. … Are we tak­ing a look at our timelines and oth­er things in re­gards to that?”

Bunn said there have been “no dis­cus­sions at this point” with NATO part­ners on the mat­ter.

Testi­fy­ing along­side Bunn on Wed­nes­day, Syr­ing said that speed­ing up the timetable for stand­ing up the Pol­ish mis­sile site — the fa­cil­ity that draws most Rus­si­an con­cern — would de­pend on the de­vel­op­ment pro­gress of its next-gen­er­a­tion Block 2A in­ter­cept­or. Ac­cel­er­at­ing the pace of work on the Ro­mania site, however, would largely be a mat­ter of fund­ing, he sug­ges­ted.

“All of that [mil­it­ary con­struc­tion] fund­ing is mostly in the [fisc­al 2016] time frame,” Syr­ing said. “So to go faster, it would re­quire money in ‘15 in terms of the tech­nic­al feas­ib­il­ity of ac­cel­er­at­ing.”

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