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Strengthening NATO’s missile defences

NATO is strengthening the Alliance’s missile defence capabilities in response to the growing threat posed by the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their delivery systems.

Deploying missile defences (© NATO )

In March this year, the Alliance reached a milestone in its efforts to field a theatre missile defence capability as the North Atlantic Council approved the charter of the Programme Management Organisation for the Alliance’s Active Layered Theatre Ballistic Missile Defence capability.

The decision formally establishes a Programme Office to manage NATO’s Active Layered Theatre Ballistic Missile Defence Programme, which will be hosted by the NATO Command, Control and Consultation Agency (NC3A) that is based in both Brussels and The Hague. The creation of the Programme Office effectively paves the way for implementation of the Active Layered Ballistic Theatre Missile Defence system, which is scheduled to reach an initial operating capability by 2010.

The Active Layered Theatre Ballistic Missile Defence system will be used to protect deployed Allied forces against short- and medium-range ballistic missiles and will integrate national theatre missile defence systems into a single, deployable “system of systems” that will comprise low and high altitude defences, capable of detecting and intercepting incoming ballistic missiles in the boost, mid-course and final phases. The system will also have a capability against jet aircraft, cruise missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles.

The US Army’s Patriot Advanced Capability-III (PAC-3), and the joint US-German-Italian Medium Extended Air Defence System (MEADS) will form the “backbone” of low layer defences together with the Franco-Italian Surface Air Moyenne Portée system (SAMP-T) and will be included in the initial operating capability. Upper-later defences such as the US sea-based Standard Missile-3 and the Theatre High-Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) systems will be added at a later date to achieve the full operating capability, scheduled for 2013.

The interconnecting architecture for these systems will be the common Air Command and Control System (ACCS), the Bi-Strategic Commands Automated Information System (Bi-SCAIS) and a communication segment, which NATO is currently developing to provide a battle management and command, control, communications and intelligence capability (BMC3I). At an estimated cost of €700 million, the system could become one of the Alliance’s largest common funded projects. The costs of the system’s nationally owned elements are expected to be several times higher.

The threat posed by ballistic missiles, such as SCUD missiles, has been apparent since the 1991 Gulf War. More than 20 states are currently believed to possess ballistic missiles. As some of these nations are also developing chemical, nuclear and biological warheads, the need for effective missile defence has increased.

“Wherever NATO operates in the future its forces will be faced with the potential threat of tactical missiles” says Bernd Kreienbaum, Deputy Head of the Joint Armaments Section in NATO’s Defence Investment Division. “There exists a complete consensus among the Allies on the need to address the threat posed by tactical missiles.”

For this reason, NATO is also cooperating closely with Russia under the aegis of the NATO-Russia Council to support future joint theatre missile defence operations. The NC3A is currently conducting a study aimed at developing NATO-Russia interoperability concepts.

NATO is also taking forward its full-scale missile defence efforts. A transatlantic consortium led by Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) has recently delivered study reports on the feasibility of a full-spectrum missile defence architecture to protect Alliance territory, forces and population centres against the full range of missile threats.

This feasibility study, which NATO leaders initiated at the 2002 Prague Summit, is conducted under the authority of the Conference of National Armaments Directors and intended to facilitate consultations among the Allies, which may lead to decisions on an Alliance-wide, full-spectrum missile defence capability. It examines the technical feasibility, time-scale and costs of an Alliance-wide Missile Defence System and addresses critical issues such as the system’s command and control architecture and the appropriate mix of existing and planned systems to meet military operational requirements.

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