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Missile Defense

Pentagon: New Missile Site Unneeded

Tom Z. Collina

In a setback to congressional proponents of a new missile interceptor site on the U.S. East Coast, senior military officials wrote in June that there is no military requirement for such a site and that the funds would be better spent on improving sensor capabilities for the existing system of interceptor sites in Alaska and California.

“There is no validated military requirement to deploy an East Coast missile defense site,” wrote Vice Adm. James Syring, director of the Missile Defense Agency (MDA), and Lt. Gen. Richard Formica, commander of the Joint Functional Command for Integrated Missile Defense, in a June 10 letter to Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.). They told Levin, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, that a decision to build such a site should wait until an environmental review of possible locations, required by the fiscal year 2013 National Defense Authorization Act, is complete. In May, Syring testified that this review, which would start in early 2014, could take up to two years.

Compared to another missile interceptor site, investments in “discrimination and sensor capabilities” would be a “more cost-effective” way to better protect the United States from long-range ballistic missiles, Syring and Formica wrote. Independent experts have criticized the U.S. system for not having the sensors, such as X-band radars, that would be necessary to distinguish actual threat warheads from missile debris and other decoys. Michael Gilmore, director of operational testing and evaluation at the Pentagon, testified May 9 that “[i]f we can’t discriminate what the real threatening objects are, it doesn’t matter how many ground-based interceptors we have. We won’t be able to hit what needs to be hit.”

The United States already has two missile interceptor sites on the West Coast, at Fort Greely in Alaska and Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, with a total of 30 ground-based interceptor (GBI) missiles to blunt potential limited attacks from North Korea or Iran. North Korea has long-range missiles that may be capable of reaching the United States; Iran could have such capabilities by 2015 with foreign assistance, according to U.S. intelligence agencies.

In response to recent North Korean nuclear and missile tests, the Pentagon announced in March that it would field an additional 14 GBI missiles in Alaska by 2017 at a cost of $1 billion, using funds that would have been allocated for the now-canceled Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) IIB missile that had been planned for deployment in Europe. (See ACT, April 2013.) The GBI missiles would also be effective against future missile threats from Iran, according to the Defense Department.

Madelyn Creedon, assistant secretary of defense for global strategic affairs, testified in May that the East Coast is already “well protected” by the 30 GBI missiles now deployed and that the plan for another 14 interceptors “provides additional protection” against “anything from North Korea as well as anything from Iran, should that threat develop.”

The combat effectiveness of the current GBI system has not been proven. The system has not successfully intercepted a test target since 2008, with two failures in 2010. (See ACT, October 2012.)

Meanwhile, the Senate Armed Services Committee approved its version of the defense authorization bill June 13. Like last year, the Democratic-led Senate did not authorize an East Coast site. Instead, reflecting the June 10 letter from the Pentagon, the committee’s bill authorizes $30 million to deploy an additional X-band radar to support target discrimination. The administration had not requested those funds. Overall, the committee authorized $9.3 billion for missile defense, $150 million more than what the administration had requested.

Levin told reporters June 13 that his committee had authorized funds to build “advanced sensors” that would be “more effective than just missiles.” Levin said the sensors would be cheaper than a new missile interceptor site and that “they can be fielded faster.”

Despite the Pentagon’s position, on June 14 the full Republican-controlled House of Representatives voted, as it did last year, to fund an East Coast missile defense site in its fiscal year 2014 defense authorization bill, providing $140 million to begin site construction. The House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee put $70 million in its 2014 spending bill for the same purpose.

The House authorization bill says a new site is needed “to deal more effectively with the long-range ballistic missile threat from the Middle East,” particularly Iran. Missile defense proponents in the House say that the need has increased since the Obama administration canceled the SM-3 IIB program, which would have been fielded in Poland to intercept potential long-range missiles from Iran aimed at the United States.

On June 11, after a House Armed Services Committee vote, the White House threatened to veto the House defense bill on the grounds that the call for an East Coast site “presumes a validated military requirement…when none exists.”

An East Coast site would cost at least $3.4 billion to build and operate over five years, according to a June 11 Congressional Budget Office estimate. A 2012 report by the National Research Council, the operating arm of the National Academy of Sciences, said that the total 20-year cost for a new system at two sites would be up to $25 billion and that the United States has already spent about $40 billion on the system on the West Coast. The report recommended replacing the existing system with an entirely new technology, which could take a decade or more to develop.

Once the full Senate approves its defense authorization bill, the House and Senate bills will have to be brought into agreement by a conference committee before being sent to President Barack Obama.

The Pentagon said it does not need a new missile defense site on the East Coast, but the House approved funding for a new site, drawing a presidential veto threat.

Statement on President Obama's June 19 Address in Berlin on Eliminating Nuclear Weapons Threats



For Immediate Release: June 19, 2013           
Daryl G. Kimball, executive director, 202-463-8270, ext. 107

(Washington, D.C.)--President Barack Obama's proposals today in Berlin for cutting the oversized U.S. nuclear arsenal and reducing global nuclear weapons dangers are welcome and overdue.

Since the days of the Kennedy administration, U.S. leadership to reduce and eliminate the nuclear threat has been critical. To succeed, however, Obama and his team will need to sustain high-level focus and energy on these urgent and tough nuclear security challenges.

The United States can and should reduce its arsenal well below 1,000 deployed strategic warheads, which is still more than enough nuclear firepower to deter any current or potential nuclear adversary. The "one-third" cuts outlined by the President are a good start, but it is only 200-300 warheads fewer than the United States was prepared to agree to during the New START negotiations four years ago.

U.S.-Russian nuclear reductions need not wait for a formal follow-on treaty. The two presidents could achieve similar and more rapid results through parallel, reciprocal reductions of strategic warheads--to well below 1,000 within the next five years, which could be verified under the 2010 New START treaty.

Bipartisan national security leaders agree that further, deeper nuclear reductions would increase U.S. security, lead to budget savings, and help pressure other nuclear-armed states to join in the disarmament enterprise.

Further nuclear reductions would also allow the administration to scale back unaffordable, overly ambitious Pentagon plan for building a new generation of strategic nuclear delivery systems and rebuilding five types of nuclear warheads. A 2013 assessment by the Arms Control Association identifies $39 billion in taxpayer savings over the next decade if the United States right-sizes its nuclear force to 1,000 or fewer strategic deployed nuclear warheads.

The President should also provide stronger leadership to overcome NATO and Russian inertia regarding tactical nuclear weapons. More than 20 years after the end of the Cold War, there is no military rationale for Russia to maintain some 2,000 tactical nuclear bombs, half of which are on obsolete naval and air defense systems. Nor is there any military requirement for the U.S. to keep 180 air-delivered nuclear bombs in Europe, which could cost $8 billion or more to refurbish. The President should begin the process of removing the U.S. tactical bombs and call on Russia to reciprocate.

Stronger U.S. leadership is also necessary to stop the spread of nuclear weapons.  

The President must put renewed energy behind the on-again-off again negotiations to limit Iran's nuclear potential and achieve a more effective inspections system. There is time for diplomacy but that time should not be wasted. The President also needs to re-engage North Korea in serious talks to halt its nuclear and missile programs, which have and can again reduce the threat it poses to Asia and to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

The President's renewed commitment to U.S. ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT)--which prohibits all nuclear test explosions anywhere--is important and welcome, but requires serious follow-though to win the support of the Senate.

Since the days of Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy, a ban on nuclear testing has been a U.S. national security objective. Today, a legally binding, verifiable ban on all nuclear testing is vital to prevent states from improving their existing arsenals and it would make it harder for potential nuclear powers like, like Iran, to perfect deliverable nuclear warheads in the future.

In 2009, Obama said his administration would pursue "immediate and aggressive" steps to secure ratification and there is strong support for action from bipartisan national security leaders and U.S. allies. Ratification is possible if the administration launches the kind of effort it successfully pursued to win approval of the New START agreement in 2010.

To get the process started, President Obama should announce the appointment of a senior, high-level White House CTBT coordinator, or task force, within the next several weeks. This would help to engage Senators on the issues surrounding the CTBT and begin the fact-based conversation that such important matters deserve.

The President's decision to extend the Nuclear Security Summit to a fourth meeting in 2016 is very important and should help plug the remaining gaps in the global nuclear security regime.

While the Obama administration has focused high-level attention to the threat posed by nuclear terrorism and spurred important progress globally to lock-down vulnerable stockpiles, the current system still lacks universal standards and reporting requirements. President Obama should take this opportunity to bolster the nuclear security enterprise and augment funding for vital U.S. nuclear threat reduction programs in the years ahead.

As President Kennedy said five decades ago, "the weapons of war must be abolished before they abolish us." Today every man, woman and child still lives under a threat of nuclear war through accidents, miscalculation, or terrorist madness.

In the months ahead, President Obama must re-energize and sustain the nuclear risk reduction enterprise and U.S. policymakers must overcome partisan politics to help address today's grave nuclear challenges.--Daryl G. Kimball


The Arms Control Association is an independent, membership-based organization dedicated to providing authoritative information and practical policy solutions to address the threats posed by the world's most dangerous weapons.



President Barack Obama's proposals today in Berlin for cutting the oversized U.S. nuclear arsenal and reducing global nuclear weapons dangers are welcome and overdue.

East Coast Missile Defense: A Rush to Failure



Volume 4, Issue 4, June 10, 2013

This week, the GOP-controlled House of Representatives will debate and vote on its annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which, among other things, would provide up to $250 million to build a missile defense site on the U.S. East Coast by 2018. This is a bad idea for a number of reasons, and would ultimately lead to a rushed, ineffective system wasting billions of taxpayer dollars.

If the full House approves an East Coast site, which is likely, the Senate Armed Services Committee, which marks up its bill this week, should not. Like last year, the Senate's cooler heads should oppose a new missile defense site that the Pentagon does not want.

The Pentagon: We Don't Need Another Site

The Pentagon says that there is no military requirement for an East Coast site. At a May 9 Senate Armed Services Strategic Subcommittee hearing, Madelyn Creedon, Assistant Defense Secretary for Global Strategic Affairs, said that the East Coast is already "well protected" by the 30 missile defense interceptors now based in Alaska and California, and the administration's plan to field another 14 interceptors in Alaska by 2017 "provides additional protection" against "anything from North Korea as well as anything from Iran, should that threat develop." Iran does not yet have a long-range missile capable of reaching the United States.

The Pentagon: We Can't Use Additional Funds

Even though the Defense Department does not support an East Coast site, last year Congress directed the Pentagon to explore options for where such a site might be located. In May 8 testimony before the House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee, Missile Defense Agency director Vice Adm. James Syring said he does not need additional funding in fiscal year 2014 because his agency already has funds to assess possible locations, which will be narrowed down to three by the end of the year. After that, an environmental review would last up to two years, he said. Rather than deciding now that the system should be deployed, Congress should wait for the Pentagon to finish its review.

The System Would Not be Effective Against Real-World Threats

To field an East Coast site by 2018, a rush by any measure, the Pentagon would have to use the same technology now deployed on the West Coast, the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system. But the existing technology needs to be scrapped, not replicated. The GMD system has not been "successfully" tested since 2008, with two failures in 2010.

According to a 2012 National Research Council report, the GMD system "has serious shortcomings, and provides at best a limited, initial defense against a relatively primitive threat." The NRC report recommends replacing the GMD system with an entirely new technology, which could take a decade or more to develop.

Moreover, the GMD system has not been proven effective at distinguishing real threat warheads from decoys or debris. As Pentagon Director of Operational Testing Michael Gilmore testified May 9, "If we can't discriminate what the real threatening objects are, it doesn't matter how many ground-based interceptors we have; we won't be able to hit what needs to be hit."

A Third GMD Site Would Be Expensive

The United States has already spent about $40 billion on the (ineffective) GMD system on the West Coast. The Congressional Budget Office has conservatively estimated that a new site would cost $3.6 billion over five years. The NRC report says that the total 20-year cost for a new system at two sites would be $19-25 billion.

Given current fiscal realities, requiring the Pentagon to buy a weapon system it does not need would force it to cut other, higher priority goals, such as solving the discrimination problem. Building a costly third GMD site using outdated, ineffective technology to counter a long-range missile threat that does not exist is not in the best interests of U.S. national security.

Missile Defense Cooperation Is a Bipartisan Goal

In addition, the House NDAA would prevent any executive agreement dealing with missile defense, presumably including agreements to share missile defense information with Russia. This is self-defeating, because the United States stands to benefit from missile defense cooperation.

For example, U.S.-Russian missile defense cooperation could include the sharing of missile launch early-warning information. The Pentagon has been interested in gaining access to data from Russian radars located northwest of Iran, such as the Voronezh radar in Armavir, that could provide useful tracking information to NATO on an Iranian missile launch toward Europe.

Given that early-warning data sharing would improve the United States' and NATO's ability to detect missile launches, it is puzzling that some in Congress oppose providing early warning, detection, and tracking information to Russia. Moscow is highly unlikely to provide this information to the U.S. and NATO unless there is a two-way flow of data.

Despite the concerns of some in Congress that the Obama administration might provide classified information about missile interceptor systems to Moscow, U.S. officials have been clear that they have no such plans. On May 9, Vice Adm. Syring said in response to a question,"I have not declassified any information to give to Russia and I have not been asked to declassify any information to give to Russia." At the same hearing, Creedon said "we have no ability to share any classified information with Russia nor any intent to share any classified information with Russia."

Moreover, U.S.-Russian efforts to cooperate on missile defense have enjoyed bipartisan support, with roots in the Reagan administration's offer to share missile defense technology with the Soviet Union. In 2004, the George W. Bush administration began seeking a Defense Technical Cooperation Agreement (DTCA) with Russia. This agreement would have addressed a broad range of cooperative research and development activities, including missile defense.

Further Bilateral Reductions Are In the U.S. National Interest

The House NDAA also proposes to block implementation of the 2010 New START Treaty between the United States and Russia, as well as further reductions beyond New START. Once again, this is self-defeating as nuclear arms reductions, with a long bipartisan tradition, serve to increase U.S. national security.

It was President Ronald Reagan who, in 1986, shifted U.S. policy away from ever-higher nuclear stockpiles--which peaked at about 30,000 nuclear warheads--and started down the path of reductions that continues today. U.S. and Russian arsenals have now been reduced by more than two-thirds, and the world is safer for it.

If the House NDAA provisions to block funding to implement New START were to become law, Russia would likely halt its nuclear reductions as well, risking the treaty's collapse. This would allow Moscow to rebuild its nuclear forces above the treaty ceiling of 1,550 deployed strategic warheads and increase the number of nuclear weapons aimed at the United States.

Moreover, the inspection system established under the treaty could collapse, depriving the U.S. of crucial data exchanges and on-site inspections of Russian forces, undermining transparency and strategic stability.

At the same time, the House NDAA would prohibit further nuclear arsenal reductions unless approved by the Senate as part of a treaty. While a treaty may be the ideal way, depending on circumstances, to implement further arms reductions, there are other ways.

For example, in 1991 President George H.W. Bush announced unilateral reductions in U.S. tactical nuclear weapons and did not seek congressional approval. Similarly, President George W. Bush reduced the U.S. nuclear stockpile by more than 50 percent, saying in 2001, "We don't need arms control negotiations to reduce our weaponry in a significant way."

B61 Is Already Overfunded

The House bill would provide $581 million for the B61 Life Extension Program (LEP), $44 million above the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA)'s fiscal 2014 request, which is already a 45 percent increase over fiscal 2013.

Instead of increasing funding for the B61, Congress should scale it back. NNSA is planning to extend the service life of 400 B61 gravity bombs for an estimated cost of $10 billion, or $25 million per bomb. But NNSA's gold-plated plan would replace hundreds of parts in each bomb that do not need to be replaced now. NNSA has a cheaper option for the B61 LEP that would cost just $1.5 to 2 billion, or 80 percent less, and replace only the parts that need replacement due to aging. There is no reason to spend the extra $8 billion, especially as some NATO allies are calling for the bombs deployed in Europe to be removed and given that the 180 B61s stored in Europe are not militarily useful or necessary today.

Time to Stop Playing Games

It is time to stop playing political games with U.S. nuclear weapons policy. Continued, verified reductions of excessive U.S. and Russian arsenals will enhance U.S. security by reducing the nuclear threat.

As the Pentagon said in January, "It is possible that our deterrence goals can be achieved with a smaller nuclear force, which would reduce the number of nuclear weapons in our inventory, as well as their role in U.S. national security strategy."

Gen. James E. Cartwright, the retired vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and commander of U.S. nuclear forces in the George W. Bush administration, said last year that U.S. deterrence requirements could be achieved with a total arsenal of 900 strategic nuclear warheads.

The major threats the United States faces today, such as proliferation, terrorism or cyber attacks, cannot be addressed with nuclear weapons. Rather than demanding American taxpayers cough up yet more money for programs that we don't need, Congress needs to focus on more cost-effective solutions that address the nation's future defense requirements.--Tom Z. Collina


The Arms Control Association (ACA) is an independent, membership-based organization dedicated to providing information and practical policy solutions to address the dangers posed by the world's most dangerous weapons. ACA publishes the monthly journal, Arms Control Today.


This week, the GOP-controlled House of Representatives will debate and vote on its annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which, among other things, would provide up to $250 million to build a missile defense site on the U.S. East Coast by 2018. This is a bad idea for a number of reasons, and would ultimately lead to a rushed, ineffective system wasting billions of taxpayer dollars.

Russia, U.S. Trade Missile Defense Offers

Tom Z. Collina

The United States and Russia are exchanging proposals on missile defense cooperation, possibly leading to another round of reductions in nuclear stockpiles, senior officials from both countries said, following a Russian official’s May 15 statement that Moscow would respond “in a constructive spirit” to a U.S. proposal made in April.

The U.S. proposal, which has not been made public, was contained in a letter from President Barack Obama that national security adviser Tom Donilon delivered to Russian President Vladimir Putin on April 15. The Russian official, Putin’s foreign policy aide Yuri Ushakov, said in April that the letter “covers military-political problems, among them missile defense and nuclear arsenals.”

Nikolai Patrushev, chief of Russia’s Security Council, delivered Putin’s reply during a meeting with Obama and Donilon on May 22, according to a statement by the Russian embassy in Washington. Patrushev also met separately with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel May 21 to discuss missile defense and other issues, according to the Pentagon. Hagel traveled to Moscow for a May 23 conference sponsored by the Russia Ministry of Defense, where missile defense was a prominent issue of discussion.

This latest round of missile defense diplomacy follows Hagel’s March announcement that the United States would cancel the planned Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) IIB missile interceptor program in Europe, which Russia claimed could undermine its strategic nuclear deterrent. (See ACT, April 2013.) Russia has said that it will not consider Obama’s proposals for additional nuclear arms reductions unless its concerns about U.S. missile interceptor plans are addressed.

The Moscow Times and other Russian media reported May 16 that Obama’s letter proposes “to develop a legally binding agreement on transparency, which would include the exchange of information and confirmation that our programs do not present a threat to each other’s defense forces.” This would presumably include a U.S. commitment to Moscow that its intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) based in western Russia would not be threatened by U.S. interceptors to be based in Poland and Romania and on nearby ships. Russia’s main objection to U.S. missile defense plans for Europe has been that they would threaten Moscow’s ICBMs.

In a May 15 e-mail, a Pentagon spokesman declined to comment on the Russian media reports.

U.S. officials have made statements that are broadly similar but provide less detail. Madelyn Creedon, assistant secretary of defense for global affairs, testified May 9 before the Senate Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee that the administration was seeking to revive earlier proposals “that could ultimately lead to discussions with respect to both transparency and cooperation with the Russians on missile defense.” The Obama administration has been proposing greater transparency on missile defense activities since 2011, and U.S.-Russian missile defense cooperation has been a bipartisan goal since the Reagan administration. (See ACT, April 2011.)

In response to U.S. proposals for greater cooperation on missile defense, Russia has been seeking a legally binding agreement, such as a treaty, to limit the number, location, and speed of U.S. interceptors based in Europe. The Obama administration has rejected this proposal because, among other reasons, the Senate would be unlikely to approve a treaty limiting U.S. missile defenses. Obama’s proposal on transparency would be an executive agreement and not subject to Senate approval, according to the Moscow Times report.

Obama’s cancellation of the planned SM-3 II-B interceptor deployment should reduce Russia’s need for a treaty-based commitment, as Moscow was primarily concerned about the capabilities of that interceptor, according to former administration officials. A Russian diplomatic source was quoted by Kommersant May 15 as saying that Russia “could well accept the U.S. proposal” because “more transparency in the missile defense field is useful both in itself and as an instrument to improve mutual confidence.”

Obama also reportedly suggested that the two countries could conclude a framework agreement on further reductions to their nuclear arsenals. In his State of the Union address in February, Obama reiterated his support for a follow-on agreement to the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START). Obama has been calling for another round of reductions for strategic and tactical nuclear weapons deployed and in storage.

Kommersant reported May 24 that Putin, in his letter to Obama, was still seeking a legal guarantee that U.S. missile interceptors would not threaten Russian ICBMs.

Talks are set to continue, as Putin and Obama are scheduled to meet on the sidelines of the summit of the Group of Eight industrialized countries in Northern Ireland on June 17-18 and in St. Petersburg, Russia, around the September 5-6 Group of 20 summit.

In response to the shelving of the SM-3 IIB program, 19 Republican House members wrote to Hagel to ask him to request $250 million for 20 interceptors for an East Coast site to defend against possible Iranian long-range missiles. At the May 9 hearing, Creedon testified that she does not see a gap in missile defense coverage of the East Coast. “The East Coast is well protected” by the 30 interceptors now based in Alaska and California, she said.

Russian and U.S. officials are trading proposals on missile defense cooperation, possibly leading to another round of nuclear stockpile reductions. Russia says it is open to U.S. offers, but no agreement has been reached.

Missile Defense Talks Resume

Tom Z. Collina

In response to the Obama administration’s March decision to cancel plans for long-range missile interceptors in Europe, Russian officials have agreed to join the United States in senior-level talks on missile defense in late April, the Defense Department has confirmed.

The meeting would be the first significant effort to restart missile defense cooperation talks since they broke down almost two years ago, possibly opening a door to U.S.-Russian negotiations on additional nuclear arsenal reductions beyond the levels established by the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START).

Russian Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov and U.S. Undersecretary of Defense for Policy James Miller will lead the bilateral discussions in Brussels on April 30, Antonov told reporters in Moscow on April 16 and a Pentagon spokesman confirmed in an April 19 e-mail to Arms Control Today. The meeting was announced after U.S. national security adviser Tom Donilon’s visit to Moscow on April 15.

Antonov said that, in Brussels, the U.S. officials “are expected to elaborate on the changes in the U.S. plans in the area of missile defense, namely their giving up the fourth phase of deploying the missile defense system in Europe.”

Despite tense relations over missile defense, human rights, and other issues, Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Barack Obama are scheduled to meet twice this year, on the sidelines of the summit of the Group of Eight industrialized countries in Northern Ireland in June and in St. Petersburg, Russia, in September for what is being billed as a “bilateral summit.”

Missile defense talks broke down in 2011 over Russian concerns that the fourth phase of the U.S. European Phased Adaptive Approach, which included plans for deploying Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) IIB long-range interceptors in Poland by 2022, would threaten Moscow’s strategic nuclear missiles. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced March 15 that the United States would “restructure” the SM-3 IIB program and shift resources toward fielding 14 additional ground-based interceptors by 2017 at Fort Greely in Alaska to address recent provocations from North Korea. That would bring the total number of long-range interceptors in Alaska and California to 44. (See ACT, April 2013.)

Speaking at a conference in Warsaw on April 18, Frank Rose, U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for arms control, verification, and compliance, clarified Hagel’s remarks by saying that the SM-3 IIB “will no longer be developed or procured.” The Obama administration’s budget request for fiscal year 2014, submitted to Congress on April 10, has no funding for the SM-3 IIB program (see).

Even so, Russia continues to say that the U.S. shift on missile defense does not go far enough. After meeting in Brussels on April 23 with NATO foreign ministers, including U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told reporters that Moscow is studying U.S. proposals on missile defense cooperation and is “ready for dialogue but cooperation could be only equitable, with clear-cut guarantees.” Russia has been demanding “firm legal guarantees” that the U.S. interceptors to be fielded in Europe would not be used to shoot down Russian strategic missiles. The United States has repeatedly declined to give such guarantees.

Donilon and Rose Gottemoeller, acting undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, discussed missile defense and the prospects for additional arms reductions with Putin and senior Russian officials April 15.

Donilon gave Putin a letter from Obama, according to both governments. Putin aide Yuri Ushakov told the Interfax news agency April 15 that the letter “covers military-political problems, among them missile defense and nuclear arsenals.” He added that the Putin-Donilon conversation “had a rather positive nature, same as the messages sent by the Obama administration.”

In another sign that Russia may be adjusting its stance on missile defense, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said April 16 in a speech at the Russian Embassy in London that U.S. missile defense plans do not pose a threat to Moscow’s strategic nuclear weapons, RIA Novosti reported. “We have solved the issue of penetrating the U.S. missile shield and it poses no military threat to the country,” said Rogozin, who has been critical of U.S. missile defense plans in the past.

In the wake of national security adviser Tom Donilon’s visit to Moscow, the United States and Russia plan to resume talks on missile defense cooperation after a two-year break.

The Prague Nuclear Agenda, Part Two

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen speaks at ACA's event at the National Press Club on April 11, 2013 By Tom Z. Collina Four years after the historic speech in Prague laying out his nuclear policy priorities, President Barack Obama must now decide which issues to focus on in his second—and last—term. The administration accomplished many important arms control and nonproliferation milestones since April 2009, such as the New START treaty, the Nuclear Posture Review, the Nuclear Security Summits, and the 2010 NPT review conference consensus, but much is left to be done, as this ACA fact sheet underscores. To...

Pentagon Shifts Gears on Missile Defense

Tom Z. Collina

Removing a major roadblock to Russian support for another round of nuclear arms reductions, the Department of Defense last month effectively canceled the fourth phase of its plans to deploy missile interceptors in Europe over the next decade.

At a March 15 press conference, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said that, under a “restructuring” of the European program, the Pentagon would redirect funding to field an additional 14 ground-based interceptor (GBI) missiles in Alaska by 2017 to address rising nuclear and missile threats from North Korea.

Citing the U.S. need to “stay ahead” of North Korea’s “irresponsible and reckless provocations,” including a satellite launch last December, a nuclear test in February, and the development of “what appears to be a road-mobile ICBM,” or intercontinental ballistic missile, Hagel said the United States would increase the number of missile interceptors at Fort Greely, Alaska, from 30 to 44; deploy a second X-band radar in Japan, which had been previously announced; conduct environmental studies for a potential additional interceptor site in the United States, as directed by Congress; and cancel the last of the four phases of the European Phased Adaptive Approach missile defense system, which would have fielded interceptors in Poland to shoot down any future long-range missiles launched from Iran.

Congressional Republicans, who have been critical of the Obama administration’s missile defense policies, generally praised the announcement. Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), the ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee, told Fox News on March 17 that he “applaud[s] the efforts,” but added he would support a new missile defense site on the East Coast and said he had concerns about canceling the fourth phase of the planned European deployment. At the same time, he said, “I don’t think that threat is imminent—I don’t think [North Korea has] the delivery mechanisms that are necessary to really harm us.”

A group of 19 House Republicans sent a March 19 letter to Hagel saying the additional interceptors in Alaska are “welcome and long overdue” but that the lawmakers were “concerned about the decision to terminate” the fourth phase. They called on Hagel to include $250 million in the fiscal year 2014 budget for 20 interceptors at a new East Coast site.

Russian Reaction

Moscow had seen the U.S. intention to deploy the Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) IIB in Poland as a potential threat to its ICBMs based in western Russia. U.S. President Barack Obama announced in February that he would resume efforts to seek additional reductions in nuclear stockpiles with Russia, but Moscow said that its concerns about U.S. missile defense plans had to be resolved first. (See ACT, March 2013.)

Rose Gottemoeller, acting undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, said March 20 in prepared remarks in Geneva that the United States now is “exploring what a future [nuclear arms control] agreement with Russia might look like.” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov met with U.S. officials in Geneva on March 18 and 19 for talks on issues that included the March 15 missile defense announcement, according to the Russian Foreign Ministry.

Russian officials have so far taken a wait-and-see approach to the Pentagon’s new plans. “There is no unequivocal answer yet to the question of what consequences all this can have for our security,” Ryabkov told reporters March 21 in Russia. “The causes for concern have not been removed, but dialogue is needed—it is in our interest and we welcome the fact that the American side also, it appears, wants to continue this dialogue.”

Moscow has been seeking a legally binding commitment that the United States would not use interceptors based in Europe to target Russia’s ICBMs. U.S. national security adviser Tom Donilon reportedly will visit Moscow April 15 to discuss missile defense with senior Russian officials, and Hagel is expected to travel to Moscow in late May to continue discussions.

Troubled Development

Administration officials said the decision to cancel the fourth phase of the European deployment was not based on Russian opposition, but on the fact that deployment of the SM-3 IIB interceptor had been delayed from 2020 to at least 2022 due to congressional funding cuts. Hagel said that, by shifting resources “from this lagging program” to the additional GBIs missiles, “we will be able to add protection against missiles from Iran sooner.”

Iran does not yet have long-range missiles that can reach the United States; the U.S. intelligence community has said Tehran could develop this capability by 2015 with significant foreign assistance, although a report last December from the Congressional Research Service said Tehran’s ability to meet that target date “is increasingly uncertain,” in part because Iran is not receiving sufficient help from China and Russia.

The SM-3 IIB, which exists only on paper and, with Hagel’s decision, has been downgraded to a technology development program, has been facing a number of problems. A study released in February by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that the SM-3 IIB might not be effective without changes to its operational plan, which in turn could lead to significant safety risks, cost increases, and schedule delays. Last September, a major technical report by a National Academy of Sciences (NAS) panel recommended canceling the fourth phase of the planned missile interceptor deployment because it was not the most effective way to defend the United States against potential Iranian missile strikes. (See ACT, October 2012.)

At the press conference, Hagel said the Pentagon would continue the other phases of its European plan, which include currently deployed, shorter-range SM-3 interceptors on Aegis-equipped Navy ships in the Mediterranean Sea and future land-based deployments in Romania in 2015 and Poland in 2018.

Walter Slocombe, a former undersecretary of defense for policy who co-chaired the NAS study, said in a March 18 interview that dropping the fourth phase was “a good step” because newly developed interceptors deployed on the East Coast could counter future Iranian ICBM launches more effectively than the SM-3 IIB could from Europe.

Slocombe questioned the administration’s decision to put additional interceptors in Alaska, saying it was “not a very good thing to do in the long run, since it’s the same old stuff in the same old place.” The NAS panel was sharply critical of the current 30-interceptor system deployed on the West Coast, which it described as “fragile” and ineffective against “any but the most primitive attacks.” The system has not had a successful intercept test since 2008, missing twice in 2010.

Fly Before You Buy

Acknowledging the GBI system’s shortcomings, Hagel said that he would not deploy the additional 14 interceptors, which will cost about $1 billion, “until we are sure that we have the complete confidence that we will need.” Speaking at the same press briefing, James Miller, the undersecretary of defense for policy, said the Pentagon would “stick with our fly-before-you-buy approach.” Noting that the GBI missile’s kill vehicle, called the Capability Enhancement-II (CE-II), has had “a couple of test failures,” Miller said the Pentagon would conduct an intercept test this year. A successful nonintercept test was conducted in January.

The CE-II kill vehicle, which is the object that is supposed to collide with an incoming warhead in space, was fielded in 2008 and is currently deployed on 10 of the 30 GBI missiles in Alaska and California, according to a March 2011 GAO report. The other 20 GBI missiles are armed with CE-I kill vehicles, which were fielded from 2004 to 2007 and still are in place today. But the CE-II was not used in an intercept test until January and December 2010, and it failed both times. As a result, in 2011 the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency (MDA) suspended additional CE-II deployments and said that fielded GBI missiles armed with CE-IIs would not be considered operational until a successful intercept test. The MDA later found a flaw in the guidance system of the Raytheon-made CE-II.

The Pentagon is going to conduct flight tests of the CE-I this summer and “hopefully flight-test the CE-II after we build it this fall,” Adm. James Winnefeld, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said at the March 15 briefing. Miller said that if the modified CE-II is successful, the Pentagon would “make changes to those CE-IIs that are currently in place, and then the new ground-based interceptors would also be [outfitted with] CE-IIs.”

Even if the next intercept tests are successful against simple, intermediate-range targets, they are not expected to test the system’s effectiveness against ICBM threats or countermeasures such as decoys. The GAO has said that the capability of the two kill vehicles against decoys “has not been validated” and that tests against ICBMs will not occur until 2015 or later.

China, which is North Korea’s main ally and has repeatedly criticized the U.S. missile defense program as a threat to strategic stability, did not welcome Hagel’s announcement. “Strengthening anti-missile deployments and military alliances can only deepen antagonism and will be of no help to solving problems,” Hong Lei, a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, told reporters in Beijing on March 18.

Removing a major roadblock to Russian support for another round of nuclear arms reductions, the Department of Defense last month effectively canceled the fourth phase of its plans to deploy missile interceptors in Europe over the next decade.

MDA Interceptor Flies Successfully

Marcus Taylor

A Jan. 26 test of a three-stage ground-based missile interceptor was a success, the Defense Department’s Missile Defense Agency (MDA) said in a Jan. 26 press release. The test, which did not involve a target missile, was part of the MDA’s effort to recover from two failed Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) intercept tests in 2010.

Initial indications from the test at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California “are that all components performed as designed,” the MDA said.

The January test was designed solely to test the flight performance in space of the exoatmospheric kill vehicle (EKV), the portion of the interceptor that would separate from its booster and is intended to collide with an incoming warhead.

The trial was the first flight test following a guidance system failure in the missile during a December 2010 test and is part of a larger test series designed to pinpoint and correct design flaws in the Raytheon-designed EKV. The MDA described the test as “the critical first step” in returning to successful testing of the GMD system. Aviation Week reported that the MDA is planning to conduct a test with a target missile between March and June.

According to the MDA, the system has had seven successful intercepts out of 14 tests, not counting a partial test in 1999 and a “no test” in 2007, giving the system a 50 percent success rate. The existing GMD system was criticized as “fragile” and ineffective in a September 2012 report by a committee of the National Academy of Sciences.

Separately, the MDA announced Feb. 13 that its Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense system successfully intercepted a medium-range ballistic missile in a flight test over the Pacific Ocean. The system used Space Tracking and Surveillance System satellites to trace the target missile and guide the Standard Missile-3 Block 1A interceptor’s kinetic warhead, the release said. This was the system’s 24th successful intercept in 30 flight attempts since 2002, according to the MDA

A Jan. 26 test of a three-stage ground-based missile interceptor was a success, the Defense Department’s Missile Defense Agency (MDA) said in a Jan. 26 press release. The test, which did not involve a target missile, was part of the MDA’s effort to recover from two failed Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) intercept tests in 2010

GAO Sees Flaws in Missile Defense Plan

Tom Z. Collina

The Obama administration’s plan for missile interceptor deployments in Europe may not be effective against long-range missiles launched at the United States from Iran, a congressionally sponsored study has concluded.

The review, which is based on classified technical reports, found that “modifications are needed” in the way that the system would operate and where it would be based. Those changes could lead to significant safety risks and cost increases, said the study, which was conducted by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), a nonpartisan investigative arm of Congress.

The review looked at the final phase of the Obama administration’s missile defense plan, called the European Phased Adaptive Approach, which was announced in September 2009. A key part of the plan is the deployment of Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) IIB interceptors in Poland around 2022. (See ACT, January/February 2013.) The review was requested last September by Rep. Michael Turner (R-Ohio), who at the time was chairman of the House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee, and was presented to the subcommittee Jan. 29. The GAO released the report, which consists of briefing slides and a cover letter on Feb. 11.

The GAO outlined a number of areas in which the Missile Defense Agency (MDA), which is part of the Defense Department, may need to revise its plans for the SM-3 IIB. The United States had planned to deploy the missiles in Romania and Poland in order to intercept future long-range missiles launched from Iran, but MDA technical analysts have since found that the Romanian site “was not a good location from a flight path standpoint” for the SM-3 IIB to defend the United States, the GAO said. Based on MDA findings, the site in Poland may “require the development of the ability to launch the interceptor earlier,” namely, during the incoming missile’s boost phase, when its engines are still firing, “to be useful for U.S. homeland defense,” the GAO said.

According to the GAO, the MDA analysis suggested that basing the interceptors on ships in the North Sea would be better than deploying them in Romania or Poland and would not require the early launch of interceptors, as basing them in Poland would. But the MDA found that this option could have “significant safety risks” and would have “unknown, but likely substantial, cost implications,” the GAO said.

“This report really confirms what I have said all along: that this was a hurried proposal by the president,” Turner told the Associated Press on Feb. 9. Turner has said that he wants the United States to revive President George W. Bush’s plan to field larger interceptors in Europe, a plan that President Barack Obama shelved in 2009, as well as build a new missile defense site on the U.S. East Coast.

Given the limitations of the land-based sites in Romania and Poland, the MDA is now requiring that the interceptors also be deployable at sea, the GAO said. Development of the SM-3 IIB is still early in the design phase, and the MDA has not determined whether the interceptor will have liquid propellant in some components. The use of liquid propellant would allow for a faster interceptor, the GAO said.

If liquid propellant is used, however, the Navy, which would deploy the missiles on its Aegis-equipped ships, would be concerned about the risk of fire, the GAO said. Because of such concerns, the Navy banned the use of liquid missile fuels on its ships in 1988. The GAO said that the Navy has not made a final decision on whether it would overturn this ban to allow liquid-fueled interceptors on ships.

According to the GAO, the SM-3 IIB could have a 27-inch diameter, as opposed to the 21-inch diameter for other, slower SM-3 versions that would intercept shorter-range missiles. The wider interceptor would raise costs for the Navy, which would have to outfit its ships with wider launchers, the GAO said. North Sea deployment also would require the Navy to dedicate additional ships to the program, the GAO said.

The Obama administration remains committed to its European deployment plan, a State Department spokesman said by e-mail Feb. 13.

For interceptors that are based in Poland to be effective, the GAO said, they may have to be able to launch shortly after the launch of the attacking missile, while that missile is still in its boost phase, but the actual intercept would not occur until after that phase, when the attacking missile is no longer firing. Intercepting a missile just after boost phase is known as “early intercept.”

Advocates of early intercept have argued that it is a way to avoid the need to differentiate between real warheads and fake ones as they travel through space, which is one of the most significant challenges to intercepting a warhead carried by a long-range missile. If the defense cannot distinguish real warheads from decoys, then it must shoot its limited supply of interceptors at all of them, degrading the system’s effectiveness. In a Feb. 26 e-mail to Arms Control Today, an MDA spokesman said that “by destroying missiles early” in flight, the MDA hopes to avoid “the costs of maintaining a significant number of expensive interceptors to destroy advanced countermeasures in a later phase of a threat missile’s flight.”

Early intercept is a controversial concept, even within the MDA. The GAO found that a 2010 MDA analysis concluded that launch of the interceptor during the boost phase of the attacking missile “was not a desirable capability” as it reduces the effective range of the interceptor. Since then, a 2012 MDA assessment found this capability was “feasible” but would require modifying the SM-3 IIB, missile defense command and control systems, and space-based sensors.

But expert panels of the National Academy of Sciences and the Defense Science Board, an advisory group to the Pentagon, have said that early intercept is impractical because interceptors cannot fly fast enough to reach the attacking missile in time. (See ACT, May 2012.)

The Obama administration’s plan for missile interceptor deployments in Europe may not be effective against long-range missiles launched at the United States from Iran, a congressionally sponsored study has concluded.

China Conducts Missile Defense Test

Timothy Farnsworth

China successfully launched a land-based missile interceptor Jan. 28, according to Xinhua, the country’s official news agency.

In a statement released after the test, a Chinese Defense Ministry official said it had accomplished “the pre-set goal,” but did not say what the goal was. The test was “defensive in nature and target[ed] no other country,” he said.

It was not clear from the Chinese statement whether the test involved a target for the interceptor to hit. China’s only previous missile interceptor test, on Jan. 11, 2010, did involve a target.

In 2007, China conducted an anti-satellite (ASAT) test, destroying one of its own satellites instead of a test warhead. (See ACT, March 2007.) That test prompted objections from numerous countries, in part because of the debris it created. The two later tests took place at a lower altitude and created no debris.

In a Feb. 12 interview, Li Bin, a senior associate with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and a professor of international relations at Tsinghua University in Beijing, said the latter two tests were focused on developing and understanding missile-intercept technology rather than assessing the performance of a deployable missile defense system.

According to Li, the Chinese versions of the statements released after each of those tests were identical. Li said, however, that the official English translation of the Jan. 28 statement omitted the word “technology” from the phrase “land-based mid-course missile interception technology test,” the term that China used in 2010. He said the use of the word “technology” indicates that China was trying to better understand missile defense capabilities and was not testing in order to deploy a national missile defense system.

Li said Beijing has three options: keeping the technology in reserve, deploying a regional missile defense system around major cities, and deploying a national system. Li said the first two options are more likely because it would be too costly to create a national system that could defend against an adversary that has a large number of intercontinental ballistic missiles.

Experts disagree on whether the main goal of the Chinese program is to develop a national missile defense system or an ASAT system. In a Feb. 20 e-mail to Arms Control Today, David Shlapak, a senior policy analyst at the RAND Corporation, said that there are differences in the development paths for the two systems. The numbers of interceptors and the “engagement dynamics”—the way the interceptors strike the target object—associated with targeting an enemy’s satellites “are much easier to manage than those associated with large-scale missile defense,” he said.

“I don’t think that the testing we’ve seen to date reveals much about China’s intentions. China could be experimenting with technology, seeking to develop a real capability, or sending a message,” he said. “Unless and until we see more activity, it’s going to be hard to make a conclusive determination.”

Previous Tests

In 2007, China destroyed an aging weather satellite with a hit-to-kill interceptor approximately 850 kilometers above the earth. According to NASA’s Orbital Debris Program Office, the tally of space debris created by the test had reached 3,037 pieces as of September 2010, of which 97 percent remained in orbit. Much of the international community, including the United States, condemned the test, which U.S. officials often cite as an example of how space has become more “congested, contested, and competitive.”

According to a January 2010 State Department cable obtained by WikiLeaks, the target of the 2010 test was a CSS-X011 medium-range ballistic missile rather than a satellite and took place at an altitude of 250 kilometers, much lower than the 2007 test. But the two tests used the same interceptor vehicle, the SC-19, the cable said. The cable also said that U.S. missile-warning satellites detected the launch of the interceptor and the target missile, as well as the actual interception.

International Reaction

The United States and other countries have expressed concerns about China’s ASAT and missile defense tests. In a Jan. 29 e-mail to Arms Control Today, a State Department official said, in regard to the 2007 ASAT test, “the United States has consistently urged Beijing through diplomatic, military-to-military, and scientific channels not to conduct further anti-satellite weapons testing in space.”

India, another country that has nuclear weapons and a growing space program, recently increased its own missile defense testing and closely watches China’s ASAT and missile defense tests. (See ACT, January/February 2013.)

According to Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan, a senior fellow at the New Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation, the 2007 Chinese ASAT test sparked a debate within and outside India’s government, “forcing a re-evaluation of India’s policy against militarization of space.” In a Feb. 20 e-mail to Arms Control Today, Rajagopalan, a former assistant director of India’s National Security Council Secretariat, said that since the 2007 test, “there has been fresh pressure brought about for an Indian ASAT system” and “a need for India to have demonstrated ASAT capability.” Although the Indian government has not made a total shift in its policy, “[t]he growing Chinese capabilities (be it ASAT or missile defense capabilities) have clearly upped the ante in the region,” Rajagopalan said.

She questioned the effectiveness of the “space security regime” and the ability “of the major global powers to respond [to] and affect” China’s behavior. “India has continued to argue for [a] legally binding mechanism to deal with the myriad challenges [of the] space domain,” Rajagopalan said.

China successfully launched a land-based missile interceptor Jan. 28, according to Xinhua, the country’s official news agency.


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