U.S. Missile Defence System in Europe: myths and technological opportunities

In the list of results achieved during US President B. Obama’s visit to Moscow, which are being actively discussed, the most uncertain issue is the information available on the negotiations between US and Russian leadership concerning the deployment of elements of US missile defence system in Poland and the Czech Republic.

One cannot really regard as significant the words of Samuel Green, Deputy Director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, that “Moscow and Washington have also come to at least some superficial understanding… on the issue of the missile defence system and mutual coordination of offensive and defensive strategic weapons” (see the newspaper “Krasnaia zvezda” [“The Red Star”], July 2009). So now, after Mr. Obama’s visit is over, it still remains unclear if indeed the construction of deployment sites in Poland will begin, whether the missiles will actually be deployed there, and whether a radar station will be built in the Czech Republic. And there is the same lack of clarity in the issue of Russia’s response measures.

It should be reminded that back in 2007, as soon as the first information on these US plans had appeared, the Institute for the Economy in Transition took part in the discussion of this problem. In a number of publications by the IET’s specialists, and especially in the presentations made by its Director, Ye. T. Gaidar, the destabilizing effect of such plans on international security, as well as the increasing military threat for Russia, were noted. Our standpoint was essentially represented by an analysis of the following technological capacities.

1. Supposedly (since the treaty has been signed), 10 missile silos will be built in the territory of Poland, which will correspond to the technical parameters of the Minuteman intercontinental ballistic missile. In these silos, as we are being told, interceptors will be deployed whose warheads will be able, with a high degree of accuracy, to home in on and then destroy incoming ballistic missiles – supposedly those launched fr om Iran, because Iran (as we are also being told) soon is going to equip its armed forces with intercontinental missiles capable of hitting targets in the USA. And Poland is the country from wh ere such missiles can most easily be intercepted.
However, specialists know that a conventional warhead can be replaced by a nuclear one within less than an hour (such replaceable warheads have already been created for the Nike Hercules systems), and within seconds be retargeted from intercepting a missile during its spaceflight to hitting a surface target. Specialists also note the fact that the “flight time” for such a missile, if it is launched from Poland, before it hits a strategic target in the RF territory will be one-third (or less) than the time needed for reaching the same target from the USA. The provoking effect of this “time-saving” measure is quite evident. That is why specialists prefer to speak of the US plans to deploy its ballistic missiles in Poland not as “a missile defense system”, but as “a so-called” missile defense system.

2. Even given the most hypothetical possibility – that we will be able to exercise reliable control over the content of the warheads on the US missiles – there still remains the question as to why these missiles will be unable to intercept the Russian missiles which might be launched as a retaliatory measure (and such conditions are usually also taken into consideration during negotiations) against targets in the US territory?
In an event of a planned “disabling” strike against Russia, it will by no means be coming from the US alone. In all its recent military actions (in Iraq, Yugoslavia, Afghanistan) the USA was relying on the support of its NATO allies, and first of all the UK. And if such a scenario of a “first strike” against Russia should indeed be realized, our retaliatory strike would also be aimed against all the related parties.

Of course, the Russian Federation will be able to design some asymmetrical retaliatory steps. These steps will probably not be ruinous for this country’s economy. However, while additional problems are usually inevitable during the period of overcoming a financial and economic crisis, we would like very much to avoid any such problems.

V. I. Tsymbal – Doctor of Technical Sciences, Head of the Department for Military Economics