Sunday, September 27, 2009

Holes in the Shield

Barely a week after President Obama announced a revised missile defense system for western Europe, Iran has provided a reminder of why the shield is so important. Early Sunday morning (U.S. time), the Islamic regime successfully test-fired at least three, short-range missiles, and promised to launch a medium-range Shahab-3--capable of reaching Israel--within 24 hours. The latest tests are part of an exercise conducted by Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which controls the nation's missile forces.

English-language Press TV reported the Fateh-110, Tondar-69 and Zelzal were test fired in a missile defense exercise, but did not give specifics on range or other details. All are short-range, surface-to-surface missiles.

Gen. Hossein Salami, head of the Revolutionary Guard Air Force, told reporters Iran tested a multiple missile launcher for the first time. Press TV showed pictures of at least two missiles being fired simultaneously and said they were from Sunday's drill in a desert in central Iran. In the clip, men could be heard shouting "Allahu Akbar" as the missiles were launched.

"The message of the war game for some arrogant countries which intend to intimidate is that we are able to give a proper, strong answer to their hostility quickly," the Web site of state television quoted Salami as saying. He said the missiles successfully hit their targets.

Salami told reporters Iran had reduced the missiles and their ranges so they could be used in quick, short-range engagements. He also said Iran would test medium-range Shahab-1 and Shahab-2 missiles on Sunday night and long-range Shahab-3 missiles on Monday, during the drill set to last several days.

Iran's continued expansion of its missile forces raises legitimate questions about the Obama plan, namely: can a defensive shield built largely around naval platforms (at least in the early years), provide adequate coverage for our allies in Europe and even portions of the CONUS?

The answer to that question is problematic at best, although such concerns have been largely ignored by the press. Anxious to put the best spin on Mr. Obama's missile defense proposal, members of the "state-controlled media" (to use ElRushbo's term) and the Pentagon press corps have failed to point out some rather obvious "holes" in the proposed shield.

For starters, the U.S. Navy doesn't have enough ships capable of performing the ballistic missile defense (BMD) role, and won't for several years--that's one reason that President Obama and his advisers have referred to a 2012 "roll-out" date for sea-based missile defenses covering western Europe. By that time, the Navy hopes to have enough cruisers and destroyers, equipped with a modified Aegis battle management system and interceptor missiles.

But there is genuine debate over how many ships are required for the BMD mission, and balancing that assignment against the other tasking for those vessels. Aegis cruisers and destroyers perform a variety of missions, including fleet air defense for carrier battle groups. Detaching vessels for missile defense will mean more time at sea for other ships--and their crews.

There's also the matter of how many ships will be required for missile defense. Ronald O'Rourke, a naval affairs specialist for the Congressional Research Service, detailed that issue (and other potential problems associated with sea-based BMD) in a 2008 report. Indeed, O'Rourke's research indicates that the Navy is recommending a massive increase in the number of BMD-capable vessels, to meet projected requirements. He cites the comments of a senior Navy admiral in a 2008 session with reporters:

The current Navy program to convert 18 cruisers and destroyers to the Aegis ballistic missile defense (BMD) capability, which will be completed by the end of this year, will have to be expanded to cover roughly 90 ships, a senior Navy officer said yesterday.

“Eighteen ships is not enough to provide a robust missile defense capability,” said Vice Adm. Barry McCullough, deputy chief of naval operations, speaking before a National Defense University breakfast forum at the Capitol Hill Club.

“The real number is somewhere around 90,” he said, because there are increasing requests for BMD coverage coming from combatant commanders in the European theater, the Central Command theater and the Pacific theater.

Readers will note that McCullough's comments came long before Aegis vessels became the backbone of the planned European missile shield. To our knowledge, no one has offered a revised requirement, based on the expanded mission requirements. The Navy currently has 18 vessels capable of BMD operations; only two are currently assigned to the Atlantic Fleet, which will have primary responsibility for anti-missile operations in European and Middle East waters.

While the number of BMD vessels in the Atlantic Fleet will certainly grow, no one seems to know how many will be required. To meet the 88-90 ship requirement outlined by Admiral McCullough, the Navy would have to convert three additional Aegis cruisers and up to 62 DDG-51 (Arleigh Burke-class) destroyers for the missile defense role.

These upgrades are part of a planned modernization effort for Aegis combatants, a program that is already underway. But the conversion process will be slow; according to another CRS analysis, the Navy will receive a total of two modernized cruisers in both FY 2009 and 2010, and three per year beginning in 2012.

However, the modernization effort is actually a dual-phased program; weapons systems upgrades come two years after other, planned improvements on the ship's hull, mechanical and electrical systems. For Burke-class destroyers, the first set of upgrades will begin in 2010, with weapons systems improvements (on the same vessels) coming two years later. Under this timetable, the Navy will get two more BMD-capable destroyers in 2012. That number will increase to three per year in 2013-2015, and jump to nine ships a year in 2016.

If all goes according to plans, the U.S. fleet will gain at least 26 additional BMD vessels over the next seven years, bringing the grand total to 38. Still, questions remain about using a sea-based option as the primary defense option, and not a complement to the land-based system, which was cancelled by Mr. Obama. Ironically, those concerns were raised by the Navy Admiral in charge of the Aegis program. From a November 2007 press report:

It would take a large number of U.S. Navy Aegis weapons system ships to shield Europe against enemy missiles from the Middle East, if the United States attempted to use the sea-based system to guard Europe instead of the Ground-based Midcourse missile Defense (GMD) system proposed for the Czech Republic and Poland.

That was the assessment yesterday of Rear Adm. Alan Hicks, program director of the Aegis ballistic missile defense (BMD) system, at a symposium of the George C. Marshall Institute, a Washington think tank, held at the National Press Club.

“Certainly by the near-term capability, between now and 2015, that’s a lot of ships, and I wouldn’t recommend it,” he said.

Further, those ships wouldn’t be stationed in an ideal location, so that the interceptors they would fire to take down enemy weapons would “run out of juice” in pursuing those threats.

Admiral Hick's comments highlight other, potential problems with the Obama plan. Russia, which lobbied actively against missile defense sites in Poland and the Czech Republic, would almost certainly protest a near-permanent presence of U.S. cruisers and destroyers in the Black Sea and the eastern Mediterranean.

The same holds true for the planned, land-based deployment of SM-3 missiles (the same interceptor used on American naval vessels) and THAAD batteries in Germany and Turkey. Governments in those nations might prove even more vulnerable to Russian pressure, potentially denying the U.S. basing rights for those defensive systems.

There are also questions about operational effectiveness and cost. The ground-based system proposed by the Bush Administration offered protection to all of Europe (and much of the U.S.) from Iranian missile attack. By comparison, the initial Aegis system--using SM-3IB missiles--provides no defense for the CONUS, and only limited protection for Europe, assuming the system is integrated with long-range, X-band tracking radars. The sea-based system will offer some defense of U.S. targets by 2015, when the SM-3IIA missile becomes available.

In terms of cost, Mr. Obama's claims about a "less expensive" sea-based system are simply false. The CRS notes that the Aegis BMD option will have a higher price tag than the baseline, land-based system and operating costs for the naval option will be "two or three times higher," based on a 35-year life cycle.

To be fair, the Obama proposal is better than nothing. But it is far from being the "better option" described by the President and his advisers. Missile defense has (apparently) survived under a Democratic Administration, but just barely. Europeans--and Americans--should be concerned about the reduced level of protection from Iranian missile attacks.


tom said...

The missile shield program that has not shot down a missile without having the test cooked, THAT missile shield?
That boondoggle like many other military / industrial / complex systems we don't need and that don't work? Hell I say we should pay for any systems that will defend the US, hell we all live here, but not the things that don't work or that we don't need.
Oh, BTW, how do we pay for more defense systems we don't need? We have no clue how to pay for the unnecessary war in Iraq....
And NO, Afghanistan is not a wasted effort, but the American people will not stand for another Vietnam like quagmire, Our allies there are as bad as the old GVN....

RM said...

Those three launches were a pretty poor example. 30 seconds of Google searching would have shown that the Zelzal is a FROG knockoff and the Tondar is basically a modified SA-2 at heart. Probably should have at least waited for news on the Shahab-3 launch, since pointing out the launch of three out-dated, short-range missiles does more to undermine your point than anything else. Countries worried about these kinds of missiles would be better of buying Patriots or S-300s rather than buying into the full-scale BMD.

J.R. said...

"The ground-based system proposed by the Bush Administration offered protection to all of Europe (and much of the U.S.) from Iranian missile attack."

Really? 10 interceptors in a known fixed site is "protection"? For someone who made fun of Obama's "HOPE" motto, you've got a funny idea of what constitutes a missile defense. Is that one of those faith-based programs?

Aegis BMD has a fantastic test record against targets that simulate MRBMs similar to the Shahab-3. How well does GBI do? ...what's that?? They've never tested GBI against a target that represents the mainstay of the Iranian regional missile threat?


If you know anything about the Shahab, Fateh, Zelzal, and Tondar missile families, you know that Aegis and THAAD are far better equipped to handle them today than GBI would ever have been under any Bush-era proposal... anyone who fires a GBI at a Zelzal just wasted a very expensive interceptor. (I see Ross beat me to the punch on this one.)

Your question ("can a defensive shield ... provide adequate coverage for ... portions of CONUS") is phrased to imply that Obama is leaving us exposed, but the reality is that neither the empty European GBI silos nor the current pre-SM3-IIA Aegis provides any CONUS coverage.

By the time you add THAAD and PAC-3 batteries to protect the silo sites, a real test program for the GBI, and more than ten silos, I'm certain the cost would approach or exceed the much more technically-viable Aegis based solution.

Unknown said...

Glad to see the anti-missile defense crowd out in force. However, in reviewing your comments, I don't see any real refutation of my basic points. First, we won't have enough BMD vessels in European waters to provide the desired level of protection anytime soon.

Secondly, the planned basing areas (with the possible exception of the eastern Mediterranean) is vulnerable to the same Russian pressure that prompted cancellation of the Polish/Czech Republic sites, and finally, even the director of the Navy's Aegis program recommended against a European missile shield that relies overwhelmingly on the naval option. True, the current generation of BMD vessels (with modified SM-3s) can intercept a Shahab-3, but you've got to have enough ships in the right place at the right time, and enough SM-3s on board to do the job. Currently, those represent significant question marks for the program--and holes in Obama's missile defense scheme.

Besides, if Secretary Gates and Admiral Mullen believe that Aegis/SM-3 is the preferred option for missile defense, why arent' they recommending the removal of GBIs from Fort Wainwright and Vandenburg AFB? In reality, optimized missile defense has always been a layered approach, and Mr. Obama has just stripped away a very valuable layer.

J.R. said...

Besides, if Secretary Gates and Admiral Mullen believe that Aegis/SM-3 is the preferred option for missile defense, why aren't they recommending the removal of GBIs from Fort Wainwright and Vandenburg AFB?

It's not the preferred option for the whole BMDS (that would be stupid) -- it's just the best interceptor for the European theater. The GBIs that protect CONUS from AK and CA still do their job, but GBIs in Europe never really made sense once THAAD and SM-3 Block IIA interceptors with similar burnout velocities were developed.

Once you consider SM-3's much higher reliability and the ease of integrating SM-3 with other systems like THAAD, AN/TPY-2, PAC-3, and ARROW, and it's a no-brainer.

By switching to SM-3s in Europe, we give our allies layered and networked protection against short- and medium-range threats which already exist, and give up ten shots at an Iranian ICBM that does not yet exist, all while retaining the ability to shoot at an Iran-to-CONUS missile with our existing assets should such an ICBM come into existence.

Put more succinctly, from testimony by Gen O'Reilly (16 June 2009):

Senator LIEBERMAN. I agree with that. Am I right—you tell me—do the ground-based interceptors in Alaska and California protect all of the continental United States?

General O’REILLY. Yes, sir.

Senator LIEBERMAN. So that what we would achieve with the GBI system in Poland and the Czech Republic would be a redundancy of protection.

General O’REILLY. Yes, sir.

...and as for being "anti-missile-defense", I'll assume that was just a bad guess, or directed at the other posters.

tfhr said...


Are you claiming that Alaska and California based GBIs can protect targets like NYC and Washington, DC?

tfhr said...



chrisale said...

Wait, what's that? Iran agreed to send some of its enriched uranium to Russia and is submitting to full inspections of its newly admitted facility?

So when will the world demand the same of Israel and actually make a DIFFERENCE in the affairs of the Middle East.

tfhr said...


That Iran would volunteer to send a sample of the product of it's cooperation with Russia to Russia does not impress.

So you equate the Ayatollahs with Israel? Do you see any differences between the two or not?

Do you want to see a nuclear armed Iran? Does it worry you at all that Iran has publicly pledged to wipe Israel off the face of the planet? How do you stand on the topic of incinerated Jews?

chrisale said...

So you equate the Ayatollahs with Israel? Do you see any differences between the two or not?

No. I equate nukes with nukes. But since you went there... I also equate wars with wars. Iran has been a in one in the past 30 years. Israel, more than a few.

I have just as much of a problem with Jews being incinerated as I would with Arabs, or Persians, or anyone else. It can not happen. But the likelihood will be there as long as Israel is not held to the same supposed standard as its "hostile" neighbours.

tfhr said...


Israel is surrounded by hostile Arab states that wish to see it destroyed. Those wars - and the outcome of each - are why Israel still survives. When Egypt, Syria and Iraq attacked Israel in 1973, Golda Meir was forced to contemplate using nuclear weapons to fend off the Arab attackers. Brandishing nukes openly, Israel forced Nixon to ramp up emergency supplies to replace IDF/IAF equipment and aircraft losses and also provide newer systems to counter advanced Arab SAM systems.

Obviously you are not in favor of the destruction of Israel. And Israel has not advocated for the destruction of Iran even though the latter sponsors and directs Hezbollah, and to a large extent, Hamas, in their ongoing wars against Israel. These proxy wars kill Israelis and Arabs alike and Iran is calling the shots. By my count Iran is currently involved in the fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Gaza, and quite possibly the Sudan.

Iran is an active partner in the development of Venezuela's own uranium reserves. The budding relationship between Hugo Chavez and Tehran is disturbing on many levels. Hezbollah's presence in Venezuela continues to grow and it appears that they work with FARC and Mexican drug cartel members.

Iran is one of North Korea's best business partners when it comes to buying weapons and technology from Pyongyang.

The notion that Iran has only been in one war is dangerously misleading. It is an active participant in a number of wars as well as the one it has been waging against the United States since 1979.

I'm not in favor of either the Israelis or American forces attacking Iran because this will not be a simple replay of Osirak. I was hopeful that this latest election in Iran would bring about a regime change that would impress upon the real power brokers in that country's government, the Ayatollahs, that they needed to rethink their aggressive position toward the West or risk stirring their own pot.

Our President watched and did nothing to rally international support for the Iranian protesters as they risked their lives to demand a fair, democratic election. Instead, we have the same leadership in Iran with it's medieval apocalyptic visions of the 12th Imam and it is another day closer to realizing an independent and irresponsible nuclear capability.

tfhr said...


I would also add that Israel has managed to maintain a peaceful relationship with Jordan for many years as well as Egypt since the '73 war and the Camp David Accords were signed by Sadat and Begin. It is possible for Egypt, Israel, and Jordan to live side by side but Syria and Iran have taken a different stance with regard to Israel.

I have serious questions about Iran's pledge to open its facilities for inspection and their trustworthiness for keeping with any agreement. Just curious - have you ever heard Iran suggest that it could be willing to negotiate with Israel?

chrisale said...

I don't disagree with most of your points... I understand Irans role in proxy wars.

But the crux of the issue when it comes to nuclear issues has to be Israels nuclear program. As long as it is there it will be a reason for others to develop nuclear weapons as well. Period.

tfhr said...


What guarantee can you give Israel that it will not be attacked if it gives up its nuclear arsenal?

If you were Israel's prime minister, how would you explain to your countrymen your decision to eliminate Israel's nuclear deterrent - knowing that nearly all of whom had relatives exterminated by men with mindsets like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

I appreciate the effort you make to remain objective or at least impartial in this debate but it becomes an academic exercise when Iran repeatedly pledges to annihilate Israel while feverishly building its own nuclear capability.

But you still hit on an important point about arms races - as long as one has "the bomb", others will aspire and point across the nearest border for justification. I can tell you that nothing drives the thought of nuclear deterrence in the Arab mind like a lunatic Iranian with visions of the 12th Imam.

tfhr said...

Sorry for the grammar gaff in the second paragraph. Let me know if I was not clear.

chrisale said...

What guarantee can you give Israel that it will not be attacked if it gives up its nuclear arsenal?


"how would you explain to your countrymen your decision to eliminate Israel's nuclear deterrent"

I would explain to them that the Israeli government must demand openness and honesty not only from it's enemies but also from itself.

I would tell them that as long as Israel maitains a nuclear deterrent that in fact it ensures that Israelis will never be safe or have lasting peace.

The current President of Iran may continue to say the things he says, but it is clear, especially after the last election, that he does so in isolation from his people.

It is time for both sides to stop using an event that happened a generation ago to justify and enflame current policy.

In too many cases, Israel has become the heinous committer of crimes that forced its very creation. 60 years ago millions of jews were in concentration camps. Now, Palestinians have lived in refugee camps for 40 years.

It is time to move on.

I stand by my original statement. If Israel is truly interested in lasting peace, then it must formally reveal and start to dismantle its significant nuclear program.

tfhr said...


You said:

"The current President of Iran may continue to say the things he says, but it is clear, especially after the last election, that he does so in isolation from his people."

I have to point out that he lost the election, according to many Iranians, and he killed quite a few of those people that protested the election outcome. So, "isolation from his people" doesn't seem to restrain Iran's front man. Given that track record, why should Israel expect Iran to act as a democratic state or even back down from it's claim that Israel does not have a right to exist?

Just curious - do you think America should dismantle its nuclear arsenal?

chrisale said...

The wishes of the Iranian people may not stop actions taken by their leaders, however, it does mean that they can do no more than launch one-off attacks at most as for a country to go to war there must be broad support amongst the people in some way-shape-or-form. That support does not exist in Iran.

"do you think America should dismantle its nuclear arsenal?"

Absolutely, in lockstep with every other declared nuclear state.

chrisale said...

The last time we saw this kind of fear-mongering about big bad people in control of big bad armies was with Iraq. Saddam actually had the distinction of launching a couple wars all by himself, making his threat more credible, but in the end, both in GWI and GWII the real resistance offered to any kind of serious response was negligeable to the point of pathetic retreat.

My history might be a little off, but I believe there hasn't been an attack launched by an Iranian/Persian military force since the times of Alexander the Great.

tfhr said...


You're wrong about Iran and "one-offs". Iran funds, trains, equips and directs Hezbollah. Tehran can and has fought a protracted war using Hezbollah. The Iranian people have no say and what better way to describe a brief but horrific nuclear exchange than a "one-off".

Being consistently wrong - across the board disarmament - is still wrong. You want the United States to abandon the chief guarantor of our security for the past 60 years when you know full well that Russia and China will not give up theirs any more than Pakistan and India. It's a dangerous world - ask Israel.

Your history is off. Iran has launched artillery attacks at targets inside Iraq over the last several of years.

FEB 2009

DEC 2008

AUG 2008

JUN 2008

MAR 2008

MAY 2006

But I think of these events, like Iran's proxy war launched from southern Lebanon, more as current events as opposed to history. I believe you used Alexander for a period reference rather than to claim him as a Persian, though the Macedonian did defeat the Persians.

After Alexander, the Sassanid Empire, which once stretched from Egypt to Turkey to Central Asia, fought against the Romans in the Roman-Persian war but later succumbed to invading Muslim forces. Persian influences in Islam spring from this period. Centuries of Shahs fighting various Arab peoples, among others, ensued followed by a crushing defeat at the hands of the Mongols.

The bottom line is that Persian influence has ebbed and flowed through the region for centuries and often at the expense of the Arabs. They are bitter enemies of Iran to this day and this is not just confined to Iraqis or the Kurdish population (see the links above) in Iraq. A Qajar crown prince of Persia attacked Russia and the Ottomans in the 19th Century. The outcome of those efforts resulted in a weakened Persia that lingered on until the Pahlavis attempted to restore modernity to Iran.

Now we have medieval throwbacks toying with one of the darkest aspects of the modern age.

chrisale said...

Guarantor of safety? MAD may have worked to keep the world from nuclear winter while the Soviets reigned in their neck of the woods... but it sure didn't help spare any bloodshed anywhere else. And now the world has changed. 9-11, the London and Madrid attacks, and other terror attacks have proven that.

The only way to ensure a future terror attack doesn't include a nuke or dirty bomb is by ridding the world completely of things.

Do I think it will happen in my lifetime? No. (i'm 32)

But disarmament is the only path towards lasting peace. It always has been, and always will be.

tfhr said...


I know it is distasteful to consider the suicide pact that was MAD to be a life saver but the Soviet Union had a massive conventional force that threatened Europe for decades but in the face of a nuclear response, was rendered all but useless. Lives were saved.

The PRC and Soviet Union fought some limited but bloody skirmishes during the 60's and 70's. Both countries could have poured millions of troops into an expanding conflict but would not risk escalation and chose to disengage rather than face a desperate nuclear response from the other side. It is a rare event to see two nuclear armed forces engage in battle. Look at Pakistan and India since they've both become members of the club. The fighting is limited compared to previous outbreaks of open war. The fear of nuclear war has changed the nature of war and reduced casualties.

Massing huge conventional forces for conquest became a military impracticality with the advent of nuclear weapons. We well know that only a small percentage of the millions upon millions to die in WWII were casualties of nuclear warfare, so I think we can agree that a nuclear free world prior to 1945 was actually more likely to resolve conflicts with conventional means that would ultimately take the lives of millions. Do you think Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union would have attacked a nuclear armed Poland as compared to the one defended by cavalry in 1939? If China could have obliterated Tokyo and the Emperor, would there have been the Pacific War, starting with Japan's subjugation of china?
In fact, the American use of two atomic bombs is correctly credited with saving millions by bringing the war to an earlier end.

We can never know the answer to those "what ifs" for certain but we do know that disarmament has NEVER brought peace. Please provide an example of where disarmament has ultimately put an end to warfare. It is clear where arms control has failed. I can point to the Washington Naval Conferences of the 1920s that sought to put a limit on capital ships prior to WWII. In that day navies were the primary means for projecting power. The ideas was to strike a balance of power in various spheres of influence and reduce the size of naval forces and the threat they posed. The ink on that agreement was hardly dry before treaty participants had embarked on plans to circumvent the rules.

The truth is that as long as man has been walking upright, his technology has moved along with him. From rocks to spears and arrows, to ships, steel and gunpowder, to aircraft able to deliver conventional bombs to far way cities to chemical weapons, nuclear bombs, and ballistic missiles capable of starting from one point and ending the lives of millions in matter of 7 to 30 minutes. Have you any idea what new technology will be released on battlefields or cities in the near future? You cannot and therefore the energy expended on eliminating one weapon is futile for it will be replaced with others, the dangers of which may not be as well understood, and feared, as nuclear weapons and therefore more likely to be unleashed.

more to follow ~

tfhr said...


Sorry for the lengthy response but you touched on many important points with your post.

You mentioned dirty bombs. Did you know that hospital waste from nuclear medicine labs can be used to make a dirty bomb? The tritium in a smoke detector can be used to make a dirty bomb. Life saving technology in the wrong hands - what agreement or disarmament plan will solve that?

The advance of technology, its use and misuse, along with the nature of warfare is a truth of the real world that has existed for 32 year-olds since time began and will be the same truth when your grand kids are 32. This is also true:

No agreement is worth the paper it is printed on if even one party is not genuine in their pledge to adhere to the agreement.

When you are dealing with a non-democratic state, like Iran, where the people have no say in who leads their country starting with approved candidates and ending with who "wins" the "election", there is no reason to believe that Iran's word can be a guarantee worthy of the lives of your own people.

The answer isn't arms control agreements based on the premise that pledges from totalitarian or theocratic regimes will be honored. Disarmament is a fool's errand and totalitarians depend on that foolishness for their own ends. "Peace in our time" Well, it sounded great at the time but the real guarantee is deterrence through strength. It is expensive but cheaper than war in so many ways. The solution to war, or at least as close as man will come, is democracy, where everyone has a stake and voice. What voice does the average Iranian have compared to the average Israeli?

If that isn't convincing enough, please let me put another way: If we got rid of policemen and fire departments, would we then put an end to arson?