Missile Defense, the U.S. and Europe
REBECCA ROBERTS, host:
Also at the G-8 today, Russian President Vladimir Putin made an unexpected proposal on missile descents. Going in to the summit, he and President Bush had traded some harsh words about a U.S. plan to place empty missile installation in Poland and the Czech Republic.
Today, Putin said he'd be okay with U.S. missile defense plan if it use the radar system that already exists in Azerbaijan instead of building a new one in the Czech Republic.
The current tensions have renewed focus on the whole U.S. missile defense program and we asked Nathan Hodge of Jane's Defense Weekly to come in and remind us what it's all about.
Mr. NATHAN HODGE (Writer, Jane's Defense Weekly): Well, when Ronald Reagan made his famous "Star Wars" speech back in 1983, the goal of missile defense is quite ambitious. Regan called on scientists to develop something that would make ballistic missile impotent and obsolete. What the Bush administration has been pushing is something that's much more limited. What they are trying to build in the missile defense agency and it's in the process of creating is layers of ballistic missile defense shield, which combines ground-base interceptors, which the Bush administration would like to have placed in Poland. It would have sea-based shooters - that's Navy Essex ships. They're reconfigured to shoot down ballistic missiles in flight.
And then something that they would call the boost-phase missile defense, which would be ways of shooting down missiles when they're at their sort of most vulnerable phase of flight. And what - we can't leave out the terminal phase of missile defense, which is things like PAC-3, the Patriot Missile System, and the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense or THAAD, which would shoot down on a threat missile in the final phase of its flight.
ROBERTS: So there's ground-based, sea-based, air-based targeting missiles just after their launch in the middle of their flight and as they're about to return to earth.
Mr. HODGE: Probably the best way to divide that up is this. You have boost-phase, midcourse, and terminal descent.
ROBERTS: That's the missile.
Mr. HODGE: Of missile defense. It's complicated stuff.
ROBERTS: So what we're talking about in Poland and the Czech Republic are two parts of a ground-base system that would target an incoming missile in its mid-flight?
Mr. HODGE: In the midcourse phase. That's correct.
ROBERTS: Midcourse phase.
Mr. HODGE: Okay. We already have ground-based interceptors at Fort Greeley, Alaska and at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The administration has been pushing them for a while to have a third ground-based interceptor site in Europe. And they have settled on Poland for the interceptors and the Czech Republic for the radar.
ROBERTS: So who is that system meant to protect Europe from?
Mr. HODGE: Well, that's the interesting thing about missile defense in general today, it is supposed to be able to counter threats from rogue states. So it's a very limited defense. If and when it works, it would only be able to stop a very limited number of threat missiles coming from - if we're talking about the interceptors in Poland - coming from the Middle East.
ROBERTS: And does it work?
Mr. HODGE: This is an interesting question. Now, MDA, the Missile Defense Agency, likes to say that it has had some success in hit to kill intercepts. In other words, the Missile Defense Agency has pointed to, I think, 26 for 34 in terms of successful hit to kill intercepts. Critics would say these tests are highly scripted. In other words, they're non-operationally realistic conditions. There are lots of ways in which you could overwhelm the missile defense system.
You could fire off (unintelligible), you could have decoys or you could simply overwhelm the system by sheer numbers. So really, what the critics are getting up is what does this $9 billion or $10 billion a year that we're spending on missile defense get you? A very limited defense that's never really been tested under operational circumstances.
ROBERTS: The missiles themselves, the hit to kill missiles, don't carry a payload. They're basically very large, heavy, fast rocks being launched at incoming missiles.
Mr. HODGE: That's a great way of describing it.
ROBERTS: So what is Vladimir Putin's big objection?
Mr. HODGE: Putin's objections are coming at a time when they're already looking at the succession of the Russian presidency. And this is really a really hot button issue for Russia, which is feeling a lot more confident on the world stage in general. Now, the Russians really didn't raise much of a fuss when they stopped the ABM Treaty. But having a missile defense interceptors stationed on Polish soil, which used to be part of the Warsaw Pact. I think it just crosses a line and Russian military officials have said that they would foresee that as a direct threat.
ROBERTS: Nathan Hodge, thanks so much.
Mr. HODGE: Than you.
ROBERTS: Nathan Hodge is staff writer for Jane's Defense Weekly.
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