04 March 2020
On the 9th of August 2019, NATO declared that its Aegis Ashore site in Deveselu, Romania completed a three-month upgrade process. During this period, the system had been taken offline. In order to make sure the area was still protected against any potential attacks, the U.S. Army decided to deploy one of its seven Terminal High-Altitude Area-Defense missile-interceptor batteries (THAAD). The THAAD unit was under NATO operational control and the full political control of the North Atlantic Council. It is said to be in accordance with NATO’s Ballistic Missile Defence system. NATO also made sure to put the emphasis on the fact that the Aegis Ashore site in Romania is purely a defensive system.
Earlier in the same year, the U.S. Army had acquired around 200 THAAD rockets for its seven batteries and approximately 40 launchers. The U.S. Missile Defense Agency describes THAAD as a “land-based element capable of shooting down a ballistic missile both inside and just outside the atmosphere” (Missile Defence Agency, 2019). The U.S. Army also handles THAAD batteries to the island of Guam, South Korea and recently Israel.
Aegis Ashore is a land-based variant of the sea-based Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) system (Ian Williams, 2018). Aegis Ashore shares components of the ship-based version including the Aegis AN/SPY-1 radar, Command, Control, and Communication systems, Computers and Intelligence (C4I) systems, MK-41 Vertical Launch Systems, computer processors, display systems, power supplies, and Raytheon SM-3 interceptor missile variants (Missile Defence Advocacy Alliance, 2020). The Missile Defense Agency, by means of NATO, operates Aegis Ashore sites in Poland and Romania. The sites are designed to help defend Europe as well as the United States in case of limited missile strikes, being potential threats from outside the Euro-Atlantic area.
In 2010, Romania, which joined NATO in 2004, agreed to host the SM-3 missiles starting in 2015at Deveselu, about 180 kilometres west of Bucharest. The operations on the Romanian site began in 2016. The two sites, in Poland and Romania, are part of the European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA), announced in 2009, where the U.S. contributes, through NATO, to the development of the ballistic missile defence system. It is designed to protect Europe against ballistic missiles. The U.S. completed the construction of the Aegis Ashore site at Deveselu as part of the second phase of the phased adaptive approach. The site is equipped with a land-based Aegis SPY-1 radar, and 12 missile tubes for the Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) Block IB interceptor missile. The SM-3 Block IB has additional capabilities compared to prior SM-3 versions in identifying and tracking objects during flight. The interceptor will defend against short- and medium-range ballistic missiles and have a limited capability against intermediate-range missiles.
The need to upgrade the missile defence structure in Europe was brought up in 2009 when President Obama declared that the U.S. is planning to contribute to a “European Phased Adaptive Approach” to defend Europe from missiles. This approach is centred around the Aegis missile defence system and is set to be organised through three main phases from 2011 to potentially 2020. Initially, there was supposed to be a fourth phase after 2022, but these plans were cancelled in 2013. The approach consists of sea- and land-based configurations of the Aegis missile defence system, the centrepiece of which is the Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) interceptor. A new, more capable version of the SM-3 is set to be developed. The system will be increasingly integrated with an evolving network of land and space-based sensors.
The first phase of the phased adaptive approach consists of a radar in Turkey, a command centre in Germany and deployed ballistic missile defence (BMD)-capable Aegis ship by the U.S. Navy. This has been operational since 2012. The second phase of the EPAA is the Romania Aegis Ashore in 2016. Lastly, the third phase is the Poland Aegis Ashore that is set to be done by 2020 (Kingston Reif, 2019). These military deployments via the EPAA, by the U.S. through NATO, especially in Eastern Europe, has raised concerns. Russia tends to view these developments as potential attacks towards their nation. Even though the U.S and NATO have continually declared that the Aegis Ashore, as well as the THAAD, are purely defensive (David Axe, 2020). The aim of the EEPA is to protect Europe against any future missile threats, but in the process, it has created new tensions with Russia. President Vladimir Putin told a meeting of Russian military and defence industry officials that “as these elements of ballistic missile defence are deployed”, Russia will be “forced to think about how to neutralize emerging threats to the Russian Federation” (Kingston Reif, 2016).
Recently, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg declared that NATO’s ballistic missile defence system in Romania provided the alliance with valuable information regarding Iran’s missile strike on U.S. bases in Iraq during a joint press conference with Romanian Prime Minister Ludovic Orban (NATO, 2020). This shows that the EPAA has proved to be very useful in certain situations where the correct information is key to planning further actions.
The EPAA is also an example of interoperability. Even though the initiative of the project comes from the U.S. through NATO, other countries such as Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands have contributed to the advancement of the project. Not only is the EPAA an example of European interoperability, but it also demonstrates cooperation between Europe, the U.S. and other countries such as Turkey to protect Europeans from potential missile threats. Interoperability is key for a coherent ballistic missile defence system lead by NATO as a diversity of geographical platforms, and national ownership of hardware are essential components of the project (Richard King, 2019). But interoperability through the BMDS has also shown its limits. Although NATO allies have worked hand in hand to better the system, national interests can still come in the way of multilateral cooperation. This can be overthrown by shared strategic thinking and asset-sharing. It can be done, for example, through the purchase of technologically interoperable systems as well as increasing multinational procurements. Additionally, member states should ensure the strategic level is appropriately involved during BMD exercises. Also, the Alliance should publish more guidance to procedurally standardize NATO BMD. Lastly, NATO leadership should support providing means, such as courses and exercises, to acculturate personnel into the NATO BMD mission. Doing so will drive NATO BMD interoperability to the point that the Alliance is maximizing the utility of its platforms and seamlessly operating within NATO IAMD (Richard King, 2019).
Written by Lucy D’hondt European Defence Researcher at Finabel – European Army Interoperability Centre
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