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Weapons Expert Says Proposed Missile Defense Capable of Intercepting Russian ICBMs
The U.S. Missile Defense Agency's (MDA) proposal to place interceptor missiles in Poland and an advanced radar system in the Czech Republic would be technologically able to intercept ICBMs launched from various sites throughout Russia, said Theodore Postol, a professor of science, technology, and national security policy at MIT.
During his 28 August presentation at a AAAS Capitol Hill briefing, Postol said that although the United States has clearly stated that the system's purpose is to defend the United States and Europe against a nuclear launch from Iran, Russia has raised objections on the grounds that it could threaten the "strategic balance" in Europe.
Earlier this year Russian President Vladimir Putin suggested that if Iran was the true target of U.S. missile defense efforts, Russia could provide data from some of its early warning radars in return for modifications of the U.S. proposed defense deployment including moving the radar site to Azerbaijan.
"There appears to be no credible technical reason that the stated U.S. objective to defend against... Iranian ICBMs could not be fulfilled by other types of deployment configurations," Postol said at the briefing sponsored by the AAAS Center for Science, Technology and Security Policy. "It is therefore understandable that Russian military analysts might suspect that U.S. motivations are different from those that have been stated."
Architects of U.S. defense policy have long contemplated a defense system against incoming missiles. The idea was first proposed following World War II, and was revived during the administration of President Ronald Reagan as the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI).
Beginning in 2004, the Bush administration began regularly presenting plans to Congress and European allies for a missile defense system to defend Europe from a potential ballistic missile attack from Iran.
In making a case to show that the missile defense system poses no threat to Russia, a permanent United Nations Security Council member and an important ally, Postol said that the MDA has overstated the speed of Russian ICBMs by 15% and underestimated the speed of proposed new U.S. interceptor missiles by 30%.
The MDA figures, Postol said, suggest that the ICBM would be traveling too fast for most U.S. interceptor missiles to engage before the ICBM reached the United States.
But Postol offered a sharply different analysis.
"The correct figures show that interceptor missiles would be able to provide defense of the United States and most of Europe from Russian ICBMs," said Postol. "That certainly makes Russia nervous."
Postol said the misuse of these statistics is troubling, especially when trying to convince another country that a weapons system does not threaten their security.
"[I]naccurate statements made by the MDA [could] cause skepticism and suspicion among Russian military analysts who are advising their political leadership on potential compromises," said Postol.
In addition to the placements of the radar and launch sites, Postol said the MDA has several unresolved questions including the advantages of using a two-stage rocket versus a three-stage rocket; the use of different radar radio frequencies including X-Band, VHF, UHF, or L-Band; and whether to place to place the interceptor missiles on land or at sea.
"With a project like national missile defense, there are a lot of issues that need to be evaluated through careful, deliberate examinations by independent scientists," said Benn Tannenbaum, project director at CSTSP. "These debates and discussions are necessary to bring out the strengths and limitations of the proposals, informing the public and their elected officials."
Among the most significant challenges for the MDA is to develop missile defense radar that can differentiate between a missile and a decoy launched to confuse the radar system. These decoys may be large balloons with reflective coating or inflatable conical-shaped objects that resemble a U.S. Minuteman warhead.
"Any missile defense system would be fundamentally unreliable unless it can be demonstrated that the system can tell the difference between simple decoys and a warhead," said Postol.
Postal said that Congress and the Department of Defense must address "this near-certain vulnerability," which has far-ranging implications for the nation's security and any future U.S. defense plans.
24 September 2007