Air Defense: European Ballistic Missile Defense Operational


May 25, 2016: Two years after the movement process began the only land-based Aegis anti-aircraft/missile system in existence (in New Jersey) has been taken apart, packed into 60 large (40 foot) shipping containers and sent to Romania where it has been put back together, tested and become an operational anti-missile system. This took six months longer than expected but this was seen as a possibility because this was the first time land-based Aegis was disassembled and moved and then set up in a combat zone. The U.S. is building two more ground-based Aegis systems; one in Poland and one in Hawaii. All three, including new Aegis components for two of them and needed missiles (24 per location) and launching hardware for all of them will cost $2.3 billion. That’s nearly $800 million per system.

The U.S. also wanted to put silos for the GBI (Ground Based Interceptors) in Romania but Russia was very much against this as they saw it as diluting the intimidation effect of their ICBM force. The GBI project was put on hold but may be revived. The GBI is a 12.7 ton ballistic missile that delivers a 64 kg (140 pound) "kill vehicle" that will intercept a ballistic missile before it begins its descent into the atmosphere. The GBI kill vehicle attempts to destroy the incoming missile, while avoiding decoys. The U.S. already has GBIs deployed in Alaska and California. The GBI can receive target information from a variety of source, mainly a large X-band radar and space based sensors (that can detect ballistic missiles during their initial launch.) Each GBI costs over $100 million (up to several hundred million dollars, depending on how many are built and how you allocated development costs.) The GBI can intercept ballistic missiles launched from as far away as 5,000 kilometers.

Back in 2010 Romania agreed to base American anti-missile systems on its territory. It was assumed this would include a land based Aegis system. At that time Israel also expressed an interest in buying a land based version Aegis, but that deal fell through. Since the land based Aegis in Romania will belong to the United States it was decided to use the development version of Aegis for this since it was always land based and was still operational. With so many Aegis systems at sea, development work can be done on one of those. When Aegis went live in Romania Russia protested and threatened Romania. For the Romanians, annoying the Russians is a bonus for a system that is there mainly to protect Europe from Iranian missiles.

The U.S. has long sought to put anti-missile systems in Eastern Europe to protect against ballistic missile attacks from Iran. Russia has opposed this and sees it as a subterfuge to weaken the effect of Russian ballistic missiles attacking European targets. Most Europeans don’t know what to make of that, but East European countries (like Romania) that spent 1945-89 as involuntary Russian vassal (or “satellite”) states, do see a need for protection from Russian missiles.

So far, Aegis has achieved an 83 percent success rate during live test firings. So now many countries want Aegis ABM (Anti-Ballistic Missile) ships for protection. The Aegis system was designed to operate aboard warships (cruisers and destroyers that have been equipped with the special software that enables the AEGIS radar system to detect and track incoming ballistic missiles). Currently, the U.S. Navy has 30 ships with the Aegis anti-missile system. There are over 100 American and foreign warships equipped with Aegis, but less than half of them had the software mods and anti-missile missiles that enable them to shoot down ballistic missiles and low-orbit satellites. Converting an Aegis ship to Aegis ABM costs about $15 million, mainly for new software and a few new hardware items. This is seen as a safe investment.

To knock down ballistic missiles, Aegis uses two similar models of the U.S. Navy Standard anti-aircraft missile, in addition to a modified version of the Aegis radar system, which can now track incoming ballistic missiles. The anti-missile missile is the RIM-161A, also known as the Standard Missile 3 (or SM-3). It has a range of over 500 kilometers and max altitude of over 160 kilometers. The Standard 3 is based on the anti-missile version of the Standard 2 (SM-2 Block IV). This SM-2 missile turned out to be effective against ballistic missile warheads that are closer to their target. One test saw a SM-2 Block IV missile destroy a warhead that was only 19 kilometers up. An SM-3 missile can destroy a warhead that is more than 200 kilometers up. But the SM-3 is only good for anti-missile work, while the SM-2 Block IV can be used against both ballistic missiles and aircraft. The SM-2 Block IV also costs less than half what an SM-3 costs.

The SM-3 has four stages. The first two boost the interceptor out of the atmosphere. The third stage fires twice to boost the interceptor farther beyond the earth's atmosphere. Prior to each motor firing it takes a GPS reading to correct course for approaching the target. The fourth stage is the nine kg (20 pound) LEAP kill vehicle, which uses infrared sensors to close on the target and ram it.




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