Chair Force Engineer

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Missiles of Azerbaijan?

In the ongoing debate between the US and Russia over missile defense, recent developments have brought an interesting technical twist to the problem. Russia has tried to create an alternative to European-based missile defense batteries by offering up the former Soviet nation of Azerbaijan instead.

The US position is that additional missile defense sites are necessary to defend the US and its European allies from future long-range missiles being developed by Iran (with much assistance from North Korea.) Based on my understanding of the Ground-based Midcourse Defense system, Europe would be a good location for a midcourse interception of a warhead headed towards Europe, or potentially the US. Azerbaijan is much closer to Iran, which actually makes it less suited towards midcourse interception of missile warheads. I tend to think that a missile defense site in Azerbaijan would be better suited towards boost-phase interception of ballistic missiles. However, a missile defense site in Azerbaijan might be a good location for a midcourse interception if Israel was the target of an Iranian missile attack.

This diplomatic overture will need to be thoroughly vetted by the missile defense experts before it's approved or rejected. Analyzing the situation will be very difficult, in light of the fact that the hypothesized long-range missiles we're guarding against have yet to be deployed by Iran. (It's reasonable to assume that Iran will field such missiles within the next decade, and preparing for that day will be a prudent course of action.) What trajectories would Iranian No-Dong-derived missiles take? What would the likely targets be? The solution to the Azerbaijan suitability question will require much assuming and plenty of war-gaming of the Iranian mullahs' mentality. The final missile-defense answer to the Iranian threat will be very expensive and will retain a high degree of flexibility.