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Sanity Check On The European Missile Defence System Debate

Posted in Military, News with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 071028 by romeosierraecho

US stirred the news in March when President Bush proposed a missile shield to be build and activated in 2011 in Czech Republic and Poland to protect Europe from Middle-Eastern missile threats (BBC) – Iran’s future nuclear capability being the obvious impetus. Russia’s response involved flexing its atrophied muscles and offering their own poor alternative solution. Yesterday, Putin went as far as using cold war language by comparing the proposed system to the Cuban Missile Crisis (Guardian).

The Russian “alternative” to the sites in Czech Republic and Poland was a proposal to put the site in Garbala (Qabala), Azerbaijan (MSNBC). The diplomatic manoeuvre sought to look for an alternative which would not counter Russia’s ICBMs, but would still protect Europe from Iranian threats. Both of these “problems” in the American proposal are easily countered:

  1. US proposal calls for 10 ground-based interceptor (GBI) missiles (FAS) along with the radar. This is clearly not enough to counter the Russian nuclear threat, considering they have literally thousands of warheads (Arms Control Association).

  2. While the site in Azerbaijan would be very close to the potential launch sites in Iran, that also means it is not the optimal location for interception and elimination of the threat. The missiles would fly away from the shield site, making intercepting harder. Also, most of Europe is outside the reach of even X-Band radar (FAS) – the type proposed to be used at the Czech site.

European missile defence shieldThe latter point is clarified in the adjacent map (also as Google Earth kml). The large red circle is a 6,000km range for a ballistic missile from Tabriz, Iran – a potential launch site. The red lines show potential non-military targets in central Europe. Open source information on Iran’s ballistic missile arsenal is sketchy, but it appears that Iran has or will have a platform capable of reaching most of Europe by the time they have the capacity to collect enough fissile material for a bomb. Iran’s Shahab-4 has a range of ~2,000km, and Shahab-6 which is in development will have a range of 6,000+km (FAS).

The green and blue circles are the sites in Czech Republic and Azerbaijan, with a 2,000km range with their X-band radars to be deployed. The ranges for the GBI have not been published, but old test reports suggest a range of at least the same as for the radar (FAS). The map shows that an Iranian missile would go out of range of the Azerbaijan-based radar about half-way to the target, making early identification and prompt interceptor launch even more critical than with the eastern European site.

US has claimed that the Russian counter-proposal would be a complementary solution, but it would not replace the eastern European solution. The analysis above supports that notion, and shows the poor justification behind the Russian counter-proposal.