European ballistic missile defense

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For more information, see: Ballistic missile defense.

Ballistic missile defense, in the post-Cold War era, is increasingly an issue for Europe. The primary concern is no longer the Soviet Union, but Iran and possibly other Middle Eastern actors. While Russia theoretically is a threat, it is not a likely one.

Russia, however, became indignant over what it saw as U.S. action in its sphere of influence, when the George W. Bush Administration proposed placing Ground-Based Midcourse Interceptors in Poland. While much mass media coverage portrayed this as a shield against attacks against Eastern Europe, the particular technology proposed actually was optimized for protecting the East coast of the United States against intercontinental ballistic missiles.

On 17 September 2009, the Obama administration withdrew the earlier proposal, in part because it could not be implemented for several years, and really did not address the short-term Iranian threat of intermediate-range ballistic missiles. An alternative approach can be deployed in a year, at lower cost. It has been proposed that the system be implemented as a European multilateral defense, rather than bilateral agreements with the U.S.

Review of threats

Type Range Examples
medium range ballistic missile


800-2,399 km

500-1499 mi

Iranian Shahab 3,

Israeli Jericho II

intermediate range ballistic missile


1,400-5,499 km

1,500-3,437 mi

Israeli Jericho III,

North Korean Nodong B; Iranian Shahab 3B derivative,
Chinese DF-4

intercontinental ballistic missile


+ 5,500 km

+ 3,438 mi

Chinese DF-5,

North Korean Taepo Dong 2,
Russian RT-2 and RSM-52§,
U.S. LGM-30 Minuteman and UGM-133 Trident D5§

§submarine launched

The Shahab 3B may not yet be operational; the Taepo Dong 2 has performed badly in tests.

Point of launch Point of impact Range
Tehran Warsaw 3020 kilometers

1876 miles

London 4408 kilometers

2739 miles

Washington, DC 10,201 kilometers

6339 miles

Review of components

Initial proposals

Initial three options

In this illustration from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO)[1] the systems shown are principally European-based components for engaging ICBMs aimed at the United States. The initial Bush administration proposal was silo-based GBI, option 1, which is midcourse-intercept-only and could not provide terminal defense of a target in Europe, except possibly in a very limited engagement geometry This proposal also assumed ten interceptor missiles, with two fired at each incoming ICBM, so six Iranian missiles could saturate the system even under fairly optimal assumptions.

It assumed the forward-based radar would be in Azerbaijan, one X-band radar in the Czech Republic and one at a location to be determined. It would be available in 2013.

Option 2 assumed the Block II SM-3, 10 per ship, a missile that would be available in 2018. Current warships that fire SM-3 have between 96 and 120 launch tubes the ship some SM-2 and ESSM anti-aircraft missiles for self-defense; the SM-2 also has terminal defense capability.

Ships would be stationed in waters off the coasts of Romania, Eastern Italy, and Poland. There would be transportable forward X-based radars in Azerbaijan and Qatar.

Option 3 assumes the SM-3 missiles are on land, which is not a major technological effort, but also includes a not-yet-operational KEI. There would be transportable forward X-based radars in Azerbaijan and Qatar.

This would place transportable SM-4 launchers at Ramstein Air Base in Germany and Incirlik Air Base in Turkey,

New phased proposal

The new proposal has four phases: [2]

  1. Existing ships and transportable sensors, deployed in 2011
  2. Enhanced SM-3 Block IB with improved sensor, on land as well as ships; deployed in 2015
  3. SM-3 Block II with more powerful rocket engine; available 2018
  4. Upgrades to allow intercepts of an Iranian ICBM; 2018[ or later

Russian views

Prime Minister of Russia Vladimir Putin, who had attacked the original Option 1 proposal as threatening to Russia's security, called Mr. Obama's decision “correct and brave.” Russia had threatened to station short-range missiles, which could overwhelm the system, in Western Russia, and indicated this was no longer planned. What is unclear and politically controversial is whether Russia will regard this as an incentive to help slow Iranian nuclear weapons development. [3]


  1. Options for Deploying Missile Defenses in Europe, Congressional Budget Office, February 2009, p. xiv
  2. Patrick O'Reilly, director, Missile Defense Agency, Next Steps on Missile Defense in Europe, Atlantic Council
  3. Clifford J. Levy and Peter Baker (19 September 2009), "Russia’s Reaction on Missile Plan Leaves Iran Issue Hanging", New York Times