The Alliance is conducting three ballistic missile defence related activities:
1. Active Layered Theatre Ballistic Missile Defence System capability
The aim of this capability is to protect NATO deployed forces against short- and medium-range ballistic missile threats (up to 3,000-kilometer range). In order to manage the risk associated with the development of such a complex capability, ALTBMD will be fielded in several phases.
The completed capability will consist of a multi-layered system of systems, comprising low and high-altitude defences (also called lower- and upper-layer defences), including battle management, communications, command and control and intelligence (BMC3I), early warning sensors, radars and various interceptors. NATO member countries will provide the sensors and weapon systems, while NATO will develop the BMC3I segment and facilitate the integration of all these elements into a coherent and effective architecture.
In 2005, the North Atlantic Council (NAC) established the NATO Active Layered Theatre Ballistic Missile Defence Programme Management Organization (ALTBMD PMO) to oversee the ALTBMD Programme. The NATO Consultation, Command and Control Agency (NC3A) and the NATO Air Command and Control System Management Agency (NACMA) are other key NATO bodies involved in the programme. As part of the NATO Agencies reform, these agencies are now grouped under the NATO Communications and Information Agency (NCIA).
The initial activities were mainly focused on system engineering and integration work, and on the development of an integration test bed hosted at the NCIA facilities in The Hague, Netherlands. The integration test bed is essential to validate development work.
In early 2010, the first operational capability, called Interim Capability, was fielded. It provides military planners with a planning tool to build the most effective defence design for specific scenarios or real deployments. A more robust version of that capability, was fielded at the end of 2010, and provides shared situational awareness. The next version will be delivered in the 2016 timeframe. After that, ALTBMD will be merged with the BMD effort detailed below.
2. BMD for the protection of NATO European territory, populations and forces
At the Lisbon Summit in November 2010, NATO heads of state and government decided to develop a BMD capability. They agreed that an expanded theatre missile defence programme could form the command, control and communications backbone of such a system. That decision was based on almost 8 years of studies and discussions.
In June 2011, NATO defence ministers approved the NATO ballistic missile defence action plan, which provides a comprehensive overview of the key actions and NAC decisions required to implement the NATO BMD capability over the next decade.
In the autumn of 2011, Turkey announced its decision to host a ballistic missile defence radar at Kürecik as an integral part of the NATO BMD capability. Romania and the United States agreed to base Aegis Ashore capabilities at Deveselu airbase in Romania, and a similar basing agreement between the United States and Poland entered into force.
In November 2011, the Netherlands announced plans to upgrade four air-defence frigates with extended long-range missile defence early-warning radars as its national contribution to NATO's ballistic missile defence capability. Finally, Spain and the United States announced an agreement to base four Aegis missile defence ships in Rota, Spain, as part of the US contribution to NATO’s BMD capability.
Seperately, France plans to develop an early-warning system for the detection of ballistic missiles.
In May 2012, NATO Heads of State and Government declared at the Chicago Summit the Interim NATO BMD capability. This capability is the significant first step in NATO’s BMD coverage. It offers the maximum coverage within available means to defend NATO’s populations, territory and forces across southern Europe against a ballistic missile attack. The Alliance remains committed to installing full BMD coverage for all NATO territory by the end of this decade.
3. Missile defence cooperation with Russia
In 2003, under the auspices of the NATO-Russia Council (NRC), a study was launched to assess possible levels of interoperability among the theatre missile defence systems of NATO Allies and Russia.
Together with this study, several computer-assisted exercises have been held to provide the basis for future improvements to interoperability, and to develop mechanisms and procedures for joint operations in the area of theatre missile defence.
NATO and Russia are also examining possible areas for cooperation on territorial missile defence. At the Lisbon Summit, the NRC agreed to discuss pursuing ballistic missile defence cooperation. They agreed on a joint ballistic missile threat assessment, and to continue dialogue in this area. The NRC was tasked to develop a comprehensive joint analysis of the future framework for BMD cooperation. In April 2012, NATO and Russia successfully conducted a computer-assisted missile defence exercise.