Paris Air Show

No Alternative to Ballistic Missile Defense in Central Eastern Europe

 - June 20, 2019, 2:27 AM

NATO’s layered ballistic missile defense (BMD) is part of the Alliance’s response against the increasing threat posed by the proliferation of ballistic missiles and changes in the political climate. In central eastern Europe (CEE) a key component of this system—capable of eliminating a limited ballistic missile attack—is being deployed at two bases: in Deveselu, Romania (operational) and Redzikowo, Poland (under construction). Although they are operated by U.S. personnel, they constitute part of the overall NATO system.

As the official name of the Deveselu/Redzikowo bases indicates (Naval Support Facility-NSF, in Deveselu, the first Aegis Ashore Missile Defense Facility), it is part of a larger system that includes ship-based Aegis assets. For the time being, only the U.S. has the complete technology in NATO to build and operate this key BMD layer.

BMD capability in Europe combines assets commonly funded by all NATO-members and voluntary contributions provided by some NATO-member countries, including BMD assets deployed on ships (radars, communications, command-and-control systems, advanced alert and detection capabilities, missiles/launchers) and/or ground-based ones. The Deveselu component of the BMD system achieved initial operating capability almost three years ago.

The U.S. Angle: No Threat to Russia

The U.S. deploys the most sophisticated, multi-layered BMD system in the world. For Europe, Redzikowo and Deveselu constitute the main components of a regional BMD system. For the U.S. they are part of a larger, global shield intended to protect U.S. and allied interests in most European NATO-member states. The 2019 U.S. Missile Defense Review states: “The U.S. relies upon nuclear deterrence to address the large and more sophisticated Russian and Chinese intercontinental ballistic missile capabilities.”

It implies that the BMD system deployed in Deveselu/Redzikowo cannot maintain a protective envelope against a massive ballistic missile attack with dozens of missiles launched simultaneously by an adversary. Thus, the Russian accusations that the system is aimed against them are groundless, DoD sources said.

The U.S. complains that, by deploying 9M729 missiles, Russia violates the 1987 Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. Russia denies this and counters by saying that the U.S. is violating the Treaty as the Mk41 launchers deployed in Deveselu and Redzikowo are capable of launching ground-to-ground missiles and thus pose a threat to Moscow.

The Russian Angle: Suspicion

Russia followed deployment of the systems in CEE with increasing suspicion. It mostly coincided with the post-2014 period, as tension between Russia and NATO increased due to events in Eastern Ukraine and the annexation of the Crimea. The Alliance stated that: “NATO missile defense is neither designed or directed against Russia and nor will it undermine Russia’s strategic deterrence capabilities. It is intended to defend against potential threats emanating from outside the Euro-Atlantic area.” Nevertheless, Russia deployed ballistic missiles, other assets in Kaliningrad, some 150 miles from Redzikowo.

“Russia cannot understand what tasks the Aegis Ashore system will accomplish for terrestrial use in ballistic defense. Perhaps the problem is that we understand the threats differently from the U.S. and its allies,” Sergei Riabkov, deputy minister for foreign affairs was quoted by TASS news agency as saying.

Riabkov added: “It is also unclear for Russia how the U.S. can guarantee that the universal Mk41 launchers included in the Aegis Ashore system [in Deveselu and Redzikowo] will not be used to launch ground-to-ground missiles. We have often discussed this issue with our American colleagues during the INF negotiations.”

Valery Gerasimov, Russian chief of general staff and first deputy defense minister on INF talks and the controversial Mk41 launcher issue, said, “Indeed the Russians point to something that is theoretically possible.” The construction of the Mk41 land-based vertical launchers allows containers with BGM-109 Tomahawk cruise missiles to be put into their slots without major problems, according to Polish defense portal defence24.   

The Polish Angle: Go On with BMD Deployment

In March 2018 Poland signed a contract with the U.S. to buy MIM-104 Patriot missile systems, hosting the second BMD layer in the country. They will form the basis of the Wisla medium-range air defense program. The Polish defense ministry announced in May 2019 that it ordered 73 Jelcz vehicles to be integrated with the Patriot air defense system. The contract value is approximately PLN171 million ($44 million).

In the first stage, in 2021 to 2022, Poland will receive two Patriot batteries with Raytheon’s PAC-3 Missile Segment Enhancement (MSE) missiles—the latest version, dedicated almost entirely to the anti-ballistic mission, and the Northrop Grumman Integrated Air and Missile Defense Battle Command System (IBCS). According to sources familiar with the deal, Polish companies will produce components for launchers, transport vehicles, and communication systems.

Romania: Backbone of CEE BMD

The Deveselu facility is scheduled to undergo technical work during a temporary shutdown. The U.S. deployed a THAAD missile defense system to Romania to maintain cover while technical work is underway on the Aegis Ashore Ballistic Missile Defense site. Once in place, NATO’s Allied Air Command will assume operational control of the unit, U.S. European Command (EUCOM) said.

Romania has bought MIM-104 Patriot systems. Together with Poland, Romania constitutes the backbone of CEE ballistic missile defense with the Aegis Ashore envelope protecting not only CEE but most of Western Europe.

Europe-U.S. Tension

In the context of the current tension between Europe, the EU, and the United States, an April 2019 study published by the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies dealt with the hypothetical scenario of the U.S. leaving NATO. The question is if that would lead the two U.S. missile defense facilities in Romania and Poland to close down or be reactivated with European NATO personnel.

And would the latter be achieved by European hardware and/or a mixed U.S.-European team under European leadership using U.S.-manufactured equipment based on multi- or bilateral agreements? In short, is there a way for Europe short-term to replace the two American systems in Poland and Romania plus the Turkey facility supporting the two Aegis Ashore BMD-installations?