Ballistic missile defence

  • Last updated: 22 Jun. 2016 12:34

Proliferation of ballistic missiles poses an increasing threat to Allied populations, territory and deployed forces. Many countries have, or are trying to develop or acquire ballistic missiles. The proliferation of these capabilities does not necessarily mean there is an immediate intent to attack NATO, but it does mean that the Alliance has a responsibility to take this into account as part of its core task of collective defence.


  • In 2010, Allies decided to develop a territorial BMD capability to pursue NATO’s core task of collective defence.
  • NATO has the responsibility to protect its European populations, territory and forces in light of the increasing proliferation of ballistic missiles and against threats emanating from outside the Euro-Atlantic area.
  • NATO BMD is purely defensive; it is a long-term investment to address a long-term security threat.
  • In 2012, Allies declared an Interim NATO BMD Capability, as a first step towards Initial and Full Operational Capability.
  • NATO BMD capability combines assets commonly funded by all Allies and voluntary contributions provided by individual Allies.
  • Several Allies already offered their contributions or are undergoing development or acquisition of further BMD assets such as upgraded ships with BMD-capable radars, ground-based Air and Missile Defence systems or advanced detection and alert capability.

More background information

  • Components

    Ballistic missile defence (BMD) forms an important part of the NATO Integrated Air and Missile Defence System (NATINAMDS). The Alliance is conducting the following BMD-related activities:

    1. Theatre Ballistic Missile Defence (TBMD)

    The aim of TBMD is to protect deployed NATO forces against short- and medium-range ballistic missile threats (up to 3,000-kilometer range).

    In early 2010, the first operational TBMD capability (called Interim Capability) was fielded. It provided 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 added shared situational awareness. The next version will be delivered in the 2016-2017 timeframe and progressively merged with the (territorial) BMD effort.

    2. BMD for the protection of NATO European territory, populations and forces

    At the Lisbon Summit in November 2010, NATO leaders decided to develop a territorial BMD capability. In May 2012 at the Chicago Summit, NATO leaders declared the Interim NATO BMD Capability operational. It offers the maximum coverage within available means to defend NATO’s populations, territory and forces across southern Europe against a limited ballistic missile attack.

    However, the final aim remains to provide full coverage and protection for all NATO European populations, territory and forces against the increasing threats posed by the proliferation of ballistic missiles. This coverage is based on the principles of indivisibility of Allied security and NATO solidarity, equitable sharing of risks and burdens, as well as reasonable challenge. It also takes into account the level of threat, affordability and technical feasibility, and is in accordance with the latest common threat assessments agreed by the Alliance.  Should international efforts reduce the threats posed by ballistic missile proliferation, NATO missile defence can, and will, adapt accordingly.

    As part of the US European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA), Turkey is hosting a US BMD radar at Kürecik, Romania is hosting an Aegis Ashore site at Deveselu Air Base (declared operational on 12 May 2016), Germany hosts the command centre at Ramstein Air Base and Poland will be hosting another Aegis Ashore site at the Redzikowo military base (in the 2018 timeframe). Additionally, in the context of the EPAA, Spain is hosting four multi-mission BMD-capable Aegis ships at its naval base in Rota. These assets are national contributions, and are integral parts of the NATO BMD capability.

    Several Allies currently offer further ground-based air and missile defence systems (such as Patriot or SAMP/T) or complementary ships as a force protection of other BMD assets. Other Allies are also developing or acquiring BMD-capable assets that could eventually be made available for NATO BMD.

    In September 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. A similar announcement was made in August 2014 by Denmark, which decided to acquire a frigate-based radar system to enhance NATO BMD. In November 2015, the United Kingdom announced it would invest in a ground-based BMD radar, intended to enhance the coverage and effectiveness of the NATO BMD capability.

  • Mechanisms

    The Defence Policy and Planning Committee (Reinforced) (DPPC(R)) is the senior committee that oversees and coordinates all efforts to develop the NATO BMD capability at the political-military level, as well as providing political-military guidance and advice on all issues related to NATO BMD.

    The Conference of National Armaments Directors (CNAD) is the senior committee responsible for the BMD programme aimed at developing necessary technical functionalities for BMD planners and operators.

    NATO Military Authorities are responsible for developing a military doctrinal framework for BMD and for BMD operational planning, training and execution.

    The Air and Missile Defence Committee as (AMDC) is the senior committee responsible for overall policy aspects of NATO Integrated Air and Missile Defence (IAMD).

    Several other NATO senior committees address NATO BMD in the context of broader topics, such as civil emergency planning or crisis management.

  • Evolution

    The key policy document providing the framework for NATO's activities in the area of BMD is NATO's 2010 Strategic Concept. In addition, BMD is an important aspect of the Deterrence and Defence Posture Review of 2012.

    The Strategic Concept recognises, inter alia, that "the proliferation of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction and their delivery systems, threatens incalculable consequences for global stability and prosperity. During the next decade, proliferation will be most acute in some of the world's most volatile regions." Therefore, NATO will "develop the capability to defend our populations and territories against ballistic missile attack as a core element of our collective defence, which contributes to the indivisible security of our Alliance. We will actively seek cooperation on missile defence with Russia and other Euro-Atlantic partners." As a defensive capability, BMD will be one element of a broader response to the threat posed by the proliferation of ballistic missiles.

    The Deterrence and Defence Posture Review of 2012 states that missile defence can complement the role of nuclear weapons in deterrence; it cannot substitute for them. It is a purely defensive capability and is being established in the light of threats from outside the Euro-Atlantic area. It is expected that NATO's missile defence capabilities would complicate an adversary's planning, and provide damage mitigation. Effective missile defence could also provide valuable decision space in times of crisis. Like other weapons systems, missile defence capabilities cannot promise complete and enduring effectiveness. NATO missile defence capability, along with effective nuclear and conventional forces, will signal our determination to deter and defend against any threat from outside the Euro-Atlantic area to the safety and security of our populations.

    At the Lisbon Summit in 2010, Allied leaders agreed to address air and missile defence in a holistic way by developing a NATO Integrated Air and Missile Defence System (NATINAMDS). NATINAMDS is based on the previously existing NATO Integrated Air Defence System (NATINADS) enhanced by the new BMD elements.

    Since 2003, under the auspices of the NATO-Russia Council (NRC), BMD-related discussions and activities were ongoing between NATO Allies and Russia. Initially, these were focused on TBMD, A study was completed to assess possible levels of interoperability among TBMD systems of Allies and Russia. Additionally, several successful computer-assisted exercises were held to provide the basis for future improvements to interoperability and to develop mechanisms and procedures for joint operations in the area of TBMD.

    Since November 2010, the focus shifted towards territorial BMD. NATO and Russia examined possible areas for cooperation in this field, based on their common decision at the Lisbon Summit. They agreed on a joint ballistic missile threat assessment, and to continue dialogue in this area. In April 2012, NATO and Russia successfully conducted a computer-assisted missile defence exercise, hosted by Germany. However, in October 2013, NATO-Russia BMD-related discussions were paused by Russia, and in April 2014, NATO suspended all cooperation with Russia in response to the Ukraine crisis.

    Key milestones

    Theatre Ballistic Missile Defence

    May 2001
    NATO launches two parallel feasibility studies for a future Alliance TBMD system.

    June 2004
    At the Istanbul Summit, Allied leaders direct that work on TBMD be taken forward expeditiously.

    March 2005
    The Alliance approves the establishment of a Programme Management Organization under the auspices of the CNAD.

    September 2006
    The Alliance awards the first major contract for the development of a test bed for the system.

    February 2008
    The test bed is opened in the Hague and declared fully operational nine months ahead of schedule.

    Throughout 2008
    The system design for the NATO command and control component of the TBMD system is verified through testing with national systems and facilities via the integrated test bed; this paves the way for the procurement of the capability.

    March 2010
    The Interim Capability (InCa) Step 1 is fielded.

    June 2010
    NATO signs contracts for the second phase of the interim theatre missile defence capability, which will include the capability to conduct a real-time theatre missile defence battle.

    July 2010
    The more robust Interim Capability (InCa 2) passes key tests during the Dutch Air Force Joint Project Optic Windmill 2010 exercise.

    December 2010
    At the end of 2010, all InCa 2 components – including BMD sensors and shooters from NATO nations – are linked and successfully tested in an ‘ensemble’ test prior to handover to NATO’s military commanders. InCa 2 is subsequently delivered to the Combined Air Operations Centre (CAOC) in Uedem, Germany.

    Territorial Ballistic Missile Defence

    November 2002
    At the Prague Summit, Allied leaders direct that a missile defence feasibility study be launched to examine options for protecting Alliance forces, territory and populations against the full range of ballistic missile threats.

    April 2006
    The study concludes that ballistic missile defence is technically feasible within the limits and assumptions of the study. The results are approved by the CNAD.

    An update of a 2004 Alliance assessment of ballistic missile threat developments is completed.

    April 2008
    At the Bucharest Summit, Allied leaders agree that the planned deployment of European-based US BMD assets should be an integral part of any future NATO-wide missile defence architecture. They call for options for a comprehensive ballistic missile defence architecture to extend coverage to all Allied territory not otherwise covered by the US system to be prepared in time for NATO’s next Summit.

    April 2009
    At the Strasbourg/Kehl Summit, Allies recognise that a future US contribution of important architectural elements could enhance NATO elaboration of the Alliance effort and judge that ballistic missile threats should be addressed in a prioritised manner that includes consideration of the level of imminence of the threat and the level of acceptable risk.

    September 2009
    The United States announces its plan for the US European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA).

    November 2010
    At the Lisbon Summit, NATO’s leaders decide to develop a BMD capability to pursue its core task of collective defence. To this end, they decide that the scope of the existing TBMD programme will be expanded beyond the capability to protect forces to also include NATO European populations and territory. In this context, the EPAA and other national contributions are welcomed as valuable to the NATO BMD architecture.

    June 2011
    NATO defence ministers approve the NATO BMD Action Plan.

    September 2011
    Turkey announces a decision to host a US-owned missile defence radar as part of the NATO BMD capability.

    September 2011
    Romania and the United States sign an agreement to base a US Aegis Ashore system in Romania as part of NATO’s BMD capability.

    September 2011
    An agreement between Poland and the United States on basing a US Aegis Ashore system in Poland enters into force.

    September 2011
    The Netherlands announces plans to upgrade four air-defence frigates with extended long-range radar systems as its national contribution to NATO’s BMD capability.

    October 2011
    Spain and the United States announce an agreement to port US Aegis ships in Rota, Spain, as part of the US contribution to NATO’s ballistic missile defence capability.

    February 2012
    Germany announces a decision to offer its Patriot air- and missile-defence systems as a national contribution to NATO’s BMD capability.

    April 2012
    NATO successfully installs and tests the command and control architecture for the Interim Capability at Allied Air Command in Ramstein, Germany.

    May 2012
    At the Chicago Summit, Allies declare the Interim NATO BMD Capability, which is an operationally significant first step, offering the maximum coverage within available means to defend the populations, territory and forces across southern NATO Europe against a ballistic missile attack”. 

    March 2013
    The Unites States announces a revised EPAA.

    October 2013
    Ground-breaking ceremony for the US Aegis Ashore system in Deveselu, Romania.

    February 2014
    First US Aegis destroyer stationed in Rota, Spain.

    June 2014
    Second US Aegis destroyer stationed in Rota.

    August 2014
    Denmark announces the decision to acquire a frigate-based radar system for NATO BMD.

    September 2014
    NATO Summit in Wales. Allies reiterate basic parameters for NATO BMD and note additional contributions offered or considered by Allies.

    April 2015
    Third US Aegis destroyer stationed in Rota.

    September 2015
    Fourth US Aegis destroyer stationed in Rota.

    November 2015
    The United Kingdom announces it will invest in a ground-based BMD radar, which will enhance the coverage and effectiveness of the NATO BMD capability.

    December 2015
    Aegis Ashore site in Deveselu, Romania, technically completed and handed over to military users.

    May 2016
    Aegis Ashore site in Deveselu declared operational.


    NATO-Russia Council Theatre Ballistic Missile Defence Cooperation

    A study is launched under the NATO-Russia Council (NRC) to assess possible levels of interoperability among TBMD systems of NATO Allies and Russia.

    March 2004
    An NRC theatre missile defence command post exercise is held in the United States.

    March 2005
    An NRC theatre missile defence command post exercise is held in the Netherlands.

    October 2006
    An NRC theatre missile defence command post exercise is held in Russia.

    January 2008
    An NRC theatre missile defence computer-assisted exercise takes place in Germany.

    December 2010
    First meeting of the NRC Missile Defence Working Group aimed at assessing decisions taken at the Lisbon Summit and exploring a possible way forward for cooperation on ballistic missile defence.

    June 2011
    NRC Defence Ministers take stock of the work on missile defence since the 2010 Lisbon Summit.

    April 2012
    Computer-assisted exercise in Ottobrunn, Germany.

    October 2013
    Russia unilaterally pauses the discussions on missile defence in the NRC framework.

    April 2014
    In response to the Ukraine crisis, NATO suspends all cooperation with Russia, including on missile defence.