Chair Force Engineer

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Missiles From Turkey, Iraq or the Sea?

I stand corrected in my post from yesterday in "Missiles From Azerbaijan?", having stated that Russia wants to use Azerbaijan instead of Europe as a missile defense site. Specifically, I should have said that the Russian proposal would substitute Azerbaijan for the Czech Republic as the site of the missile-defense radar. Within a day of the Azerbaijan announcement, Russian President Vladimir Putin proposed that the missiles to be placed in Poland could instead be moved to Turkey, Iraq or a sea-based platform.

The Russian tactic has shifted from opposing all missile-defenses to opposing their location in Europe. This indicates, in my mind, that Russia knows its nuclear deterrent is safe from a limited midcourse defense. Instead, Russia is trying to resist American influence spreading into former Warsaw-Pact nations. While the Cold War is over, Russia's mentality of preserving "buffer states" in central Europe is far from dead.

Basing missiles in Iraq is a non-starter for political and security reasons. After all, why guard against Iranian missile attacks by placing your interceptors within striking distance of Iran and its Mahdi Army proxies?

The Turkish option is worth considering on both political and technical grounds. It would be good for intercepting warheads aimed at Europe, although I'm not sure if it would be ideal for protecting the continental US. At the same time, the ill-will that many Turks feel towards the US military presence in their country will be a tough political hurdle. My guess is that it can be overcome if the US offers the Turks a lucrative foreign aide package. In the biggest of ironies, the US removed its Thor missiles from Turkey once the Soviets backed down from the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962; now the Russians want American missiles (albeit defensive ones) back in Turkey.

A sea-based missile defense battery sounds oddly-familiar... Oh yes, we already have one of those: the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense system. Over the last eight years, tests of this system from US Navy cruisers and destroyers have been almost consistently successful. The Aegis-based defenses have been the crown jewel in America's missile defense efforts.

I am personally mystified as to the difference in capabilities between the Aegis-based system and the Ground-based Missile Defense system that is generating so much controversy with the Russians. I would assume that the Aegis system is more limited, due to the need to fit it into a package that can be carried on a cruiser or destroyer. However, both systems bill themselves as "midcourse" defenses.

By this point, the obstacles to missile defense appear to be more political than technical. Midcourse interception of missile warheads will work, although further effort will be necessary to make the ground-based system reliable. The political question of basing the radars and interceptors stems from the technical question of where such sites should be optimally located to intercept missiles launched from North Korea or Iran. A rough simulation of this scenario is not difficult to create in Satellite Tool Kit; I may amuse myself by trying it out someday.