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The European missile defense folly

11.12.2008 - Lewis, G. / Postol, T. Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists
The United States plans to protect itself from emerging missile threats by building a Europe-based missile defense system. Like its predecessors, the system has serious technological deficiencies.

During 2007, the Bush administration began an aggressive sales campaign aimed at convincing its European allies to accept a U.S. deployment of missile defense components on their continent.


A large X-band radar called the European midcourse radar (EMR) would be deployed in the Czech Republic; a forward-based X-band (FBX) radar would be deployed at an unspecified location near Iran, possibly in eastern Turkey or Georgia; and a launch site with 10 ground-based interceptors would be located in Poland.


But when MDA’s description of how the system functions is subjected to a detailed technical analysis, it becomes clear that none of the system’s components can work as MDA claims. Specifically, our technical findings conclude:

Basic countermeasures will topple the system.

It’s extremely easy to show that countermeasures such as lightweight balloons and low-powered jammers would render current and future variants of the U.S. missile defense system obsolete.


The EMR is substantially underpowered.

The result is a defense system that’s unable to provide any discrimination services against missiles launched from Iran to the eastern half of the continental United States.


The EMR is designed to be upgradable, which raises questions about whether the Bush administration is pushing to deploy a lesser EMR in the Czech Republic now as a strategy to commit the country to a course that will be difficult to reverse.


Vardo will likely be part of the system, too.

Without a drastically upgraded or replaced EMR, the controversial large, dish-antenna X-band radar, called the GLOBUS II, at Vardo, Norway, could perform some of the tracking and discrimination functions the MDA envisions for EMR.

The United States moved the GLOBUS II from California to Norway in 1998. Initially, the U.S. and Norwegian governments presented it to the Norwegian people as a space surveillance sensor. But more probably, its major purpose was to gather missile defense discrimination and signature data on Russian warheads and decoys that were being tested on trajectories between the Russian launch site at Plesetsk and the impact area at Kamchatka.

When the Norwegian public learned about the radar’s true purpose, it caused serious domestic backlash against the government and a series of international incidents with Russia.


In fact, the actual ranges claimed for the EMR and FBX radar by the MDA need to be reduced by a factor of more than three.


Despite claims to the contrary by both MDA and State Department officials, the interceptors that Washington wants to deploy in Poland are fast enough to catch Russian ICBMs launched from locations west of the Ural Mountains toward the continental United States. The location of the interceptor site in Poland is ideal for this purpose, as is the location of the EMR.

The U.S. vow to deploy only 10 interceptors in Poland is inconsistent with the logic Washington has put forward to justify the system’s deployment. By definition, a postulated Iranian threat would include an infrastructure, production facilities, and industrial base to build more than 10 ICBMs.

Therefore, the 10 proposed interceptors should be regarded as an initial deployment, leaving Russian leaders to contemplate the possibility of a vast expansion in the number of interceptors at the Polish site, and the rest of the world to wonder about the rationality of U.S. leadership that appears to want the unachievable — nuclear supremacy.

Source (American): Lewis, George N. / Postol, Theodore A. The European missile defense folly. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, May/June 2008, Vol. 64, No. 2, p. 32-39, 61

George N. Lewis is a physicist and associate director of the Peace Studies Program at Cornell University.
Theodore A. Postol is a physicist and professor of science, technology, and national security policy at MIT. Postol has been involved in numerous studies of the U.S. missile defense program.


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