Pentagon plans defense against Mideast missiles
THE WASHINGTON TIMES - December 19, 2002:
The Pentagon is planning to build a second missile-defense interceptor system near the East Coast or in Europe to counter missile threats from the Middle East, Bush administration officials said yesterday.
President Bush announced Tuesday that the Pentagon will build a limited missile-defense system by 2004, situated in the West and primarily aimed at defending the United States against long-range missile attacks from North Korea or China.
The plans call for deploying a single system with 16 interceptor missiles at Fort Greeley, Alaska, and four interceptors at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California by 2005.
Administration officials familiar with detailed plans for a broader defense system say the plans call for another interceptor site in Maine, oriented toward missile threats from Europe and the Middle East.
Additionally, interceptors could be set up in Britain, Hungary or Poland, NATO allies whose governments privately have indicated they would be willing to cooperate with and provide bases for a missile-defense system.
Deploying interceptors in Europe is likely to further upset Russia, which yesterday criticized the already-announced U.S. missile-defense plans.
Moscow's Foreign Ministry said in a statement made public yesterday that the missile-defense plans, including the use of space for components, have entered "a destabilizing new phase."
The statement said that abandoning the principles of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty "may lead only to a weakening of strategic stability, to a senseless new arms race in the world."
Russia expects the United States to focus on making strategic arms cuts and combating terrorism and the spread of weapons of mass destruction, the statement said.
"Moscow counts on the United States to pay priority attention to the realization of precisely this strategic partnership program agreed upon at the highest level and to enlist its friends and partners in it, not in a destabilizing race in strategic defensive arms, including in space," the statement said.
China's government has not responded publicly to Mr. Bush's deployment decision.
In the past, China has opposed U.S. missile-defense programs as upsetting international stability, and Beijing fears the neutralization of its arsenal of about 20 intercontinental ballistic missiles.
Lt. Col. Rick Lehner, a spokesman for the Missile Defense Agency, said the initial missile-defense system of interceptors in Alaska and California could be expanded with additional interceptor sites.
"Anything is possible, but there are no firm plans beyond 2005," Col. Lehner said. "After 2005, it may be necessary for adding ground-based interceptors or sea-based missiles or [airborne laser]. But it's just too early to know. All our focus is going to be on this initial capability."
The CIA estimates that Iran, Iraq, Libya and Syria could emerge as long-range missile threats and that the initial West Coast system will be unable to knock out missiles from those countries, the officials said.
More interceptor sites therefore will be needed and could be built in the 2010-2015 time frame, the officials said.
Iran has the Shahab-3 medium-range missile that can reach Europe, but not the United States. U.S. intelligence agencies believe the Iranians also are working on an intercontinental-range missile, which the Tehran government has denied.
Defense officials said the West Coast system to be deployed by 2005 could protect most of the United States, with the exception of southern Florida, from missiles launched from East Asia.
The Pentagon announced yesterday that it plans to deploy the first six interceptors in Alaska and four at Vandenberg by 2004. An additional 10 interceptors would then be deployed in Alaska in 2005.
The plans also call for deploying three warships equipped with the Aegis battle management system and SM-3 interceptor missiles, although such missiles will be less effective than the ground-based interceptors against long-range missiles.