This article first appeared in AviationWeek.com.
Boeing officials are unveiling a mobile Ground-Based Interceptor design as an option while the White House mulls the future of deploying an additional set of defenses designed to protect the United States and Europe from the threat of an Iranian long-range ballistic missile.
The company included a small model of the concept at its exhibit for the Space and Missile Defense Conference 2009 here this week. Program officials also spoke about it publicly for the first time at the conference.
President George W. Bush was pursuing a plan to base an X-band tracking radar in the Czech Republic and 10 fixed GBIs in Poland. But the plan triggered ire from Russia, which claims the interceptors could threaten Moscows nuclear deterrent capability or that the missiles could actually provide an offensive capability against Russia as well as encroach on Russian regional influence. U.S. officials refute those arguments, but the Obama administration is reviewing the proposal, including a consideration of other options.
Some missile defense advocates suggest the delay of a two-stage booster verification fly-out test, which is now set for next spring, indicates a lack of urgency in fielding this variant in Poland (the two-stage GBI is being developed for the European application).
MDA officials, however, say a lack of Polish movement ratifying the arrangement, as well as limits handed down by the U.S. Congress in establishing the site, allowed more time for the test, which was scheduled for this summer. The Ground-based Midcourse Defense system also further had a controversial history with testing, in general.
Boeings concept is to provide a mobile, two-stage GBI in a truck container. The missile would be hatched and perched on a pedestal in preparation for launch. Including shipping from the continental United States, the mobile GBI could be ready for launch 24 hours after departure, says Norm Tew, Boeing GMD program manager.
This configuration could address some of Russias concerns about a fixed site of Polish silos. And, it could be subject to standard arms control monitoring regimes. Perhaps to quell Russian worries, it could be stored in containers until a threat is detected, whereupon the system could be readied for launch in about an hour.