NATO’s Missile Defence – the first live-fire test

  • 17 Nov. 2011 -
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  • Last updated: 17 Nov. 2011 18:20

During the German-led exercise Rapid Arrow 2011, the NATO Active Layered Theatre Ballistic Missile Defence Interim Capability (ALTBMD) was succesfully tested. Until now ballistic missile threats were only simulated and did not include firing a real interceptor missile. This time an actual interceptor missile was launched against a target area.

“At the moment there are no indications and warnings that tensions are high, that we are under the threat of a ballistic missile attack. But we could use it if the situation would change,” General Friedrich Ploeger explains. As Deputy Commander of the Allied Air Command Headquarters at Ramstein, the exercise allowed him to practice his role in engaging ballistic missile threats, as one of the Allied commanders.

Speed is of the essence

During the exercise the radar of the US ship The USS Sullivans picked up a target missile and passed that information to a German Patriot Battery at the NATO Missile Firing Installation in Crete, to help it conduct an intercept. Since this communication involves the NATO Command and Control structure, the exercise showed that there’s no delay in the information flow between the US and the NATO Missile Defence systems.

“As this whole event only lasted about five minutes from the launch of the target missile to the final engagement, it also shows how critical a good C2 system is to the overall Command and Control process. Because time is very limited, we cannot pick up the phone and dial some number and try to get some people who we need to talk to. Everything must be functioning perfectly and working perfectly in order to really do Command and Control of missile defence,” General Ploeger says.

Missile Defence network

The live fire test, in which the target was successfully acquired and destroyed, is an important step in the development of NATO’s Missile Defence capability. The system consists of the sum of national missile defence assets, networked together. According to Major General (ret) Alessandro Pera, head of NATO’s Active Layered Theatre Ballistic Missile Defence (ALTBMD) Program, it is a good example of NATO’s multinational approach:

“Together it is more effective than the single sum of the individual assets that the nations provide. So, this is a real example of how we can perform a better mission with the contributions of the single individual countries that by themselves would not be able to perform the entire spectrum of the mission to defend NATO from ballistic missiles,” Says Major General Pera.

According to Pera the live fire exercise operationally validated NATO’s Missile Defence system. The next step is to improve and broaden the Missile Defence protection from protecting NATO military forces to also protecting its territory and populations.

“Up until now we have been dealing with the defence of forces. For the defence of forces there are some criteria. Forces are for example trained and are, to a certain extent, hardened, can be dispersed. Obviously the population and territorial cities are not, so we need to have different criteria to deal also with these additional requirements,” he says.

That way the civilian population can also be alerted and warned in case of a missile threat.