View Full Version : Move comes as Obama cancels land-based plans

09-19-2009, 11:55 AM
By Philip Ewing - Staff writer
Posted : Friday Sep 18, 2009 15:27:35 EDT

The Navy will begin to maintain a constant presence of at least two or three ballistic-missile defense cruisers and destroyers in the waters around Europe by 2011, the Pentagon announced Sept. 17, to protect the continent from potential Iranian missile attacks.

The standing patrol would sail the North Sea and the Mediterranean to cover Europe from the north and south, and U.S. commanders could surge additional ships to provide extra assistance when needed, said Marine Gen. James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The new mission is part of President Barack Obama’s strategy to provide missile defense for Europe, a change that does away with the land-based missiles and radars initially backed by the Bush administration.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who recommended the change along with the Joint Chiefs, cited a two-part rationale for the shift, saying that the intelligence community’s 2006 assessment of the Iranian threat had changed and that analysts now believe the threat from Iran’s short- and medium-range missiles, such as the Shahab-3, “is developing more rapidly than previously projected.”

This poses an “increased and more immediate threat to our forces on the European continent, as well as to our allies,” Gates said, while the threat of potential Iranian intercontinental ballistic missile capability “has been slower to develop.”

Cartwright and Gates said that sea-based BMD protection could cover Europe until the U.S. and its allies field land-based radars and a new version of the Navy’s Standard Missile-3 interceptor missile, some time toward the end of the next decade. Until then, the U.S. will rely on the sensors and ample missile tubes aboard Navy warships, Cartwright said.

“A single Aegis [warship] can carry a hundred — plus or minus a few, depending on their mission configuration — of the SM-3,” Cartwright said. “If [the threat] doesn’t emerge, we don’t have to build [new interceptors] but if it does, we’re ready to basically go after it.”

A cruiser has 122 Vertical Launch System tubes. Arleigh Burke-class destroyers have 90 or 96 VLS tubes. The ships usually deploy with a mixed arsenal of SM-2, SM-3, anti-submarine, Evolved Sea Sparrow and Tomahawk missiles. Sailing as an all-SM-3-armed BMD barge, charged only with defending against ballistic-missile attacks, would be a new mission for an Aegis warship.
East Coast BMD expansion

It’s likely that the ships assigned to the Europe-area patrol mission will come from the East Coast. The Navy and the Missile Defense Agency want to make nine East Coast-based Aegis ships BMD-capable by 2014 — three that had already been slated for the upgrade and six requested in this year’s budget. MDA will recommend that all of them be from the Atlantic Fleet.

Today, 18 ships are equipped with Aegis BMD, and all but two are based in the Pacific.

The three ships already set to get upgrades are the cruisers Vella Gulf and Monterey, based at Naval Station Norfolk, Va., and the destroyer The Sullivans, based at Naval Station Mayport, Fla. The six additional ships haven’t been named.

A second phase of the U.S. missile-defense regime will be in place by 2015, Cartwright said, and will include land-based sensors and SM-3s, but it was not clear whether that would mean an end to the standing Aegis BMD presence in Europe.

Worldwide, the system eventually will integrate the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense missile, or THAAD, slated for operational deployment to Europe this year, and the Ground-Based Interceptor missile based at Fort Greely, Alaska, and at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., Cartwright said.

It also would include construction of a directional X-band radar somewhere in Europe, most likely in the Caucasus region, Cartwright said.