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Likely Winners From Euro Missile Cut

UDATED: With Gates, Congressional Comments

Raytheon's land-based SM-3 program is the biggest winner from the administration's decision to change its approach to defending allies against Iranian missiles.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Gen. James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and former head of Strategic Command, both cited the system as a key part in why the administration changed its mind during their Thursday morning briefing.

Of course, Gates and Cartwright also made very clear that Iran had played a mighty significant part in changing the American approach. The 2006 intelligence assessment that Iran would fairly soon deploy intercontinental ballistic missiles has been superseded. Today, Cartwright said, the real threat does not come from four or five rogue state ICBMs but from literally hundreds of short- and medium-range missiles capable of striking Israel, Europe and US forces in the region. Hoss Cartwright noted that the Shahab 3 is "developing more rapidly than expected."

The march of missile defense in Europe will now look like this. In 2011, Patriots will be deployed, and a regular force of two or three SM-3-bearing ships will patrol the North Sea and the Mediterranean, Cartwright said. The next phase, beginning in 2015, will lead to the deployment of SM-3 1Bs, the next iteration of the missile, along with the first deployment of the land-based SM-3. In 2018 the country will send SM-3 2s ashore and at sea. Finally, in 2020, the U.S. will deploy SM-3 2Bs.

In addition to the threat, cost drove the decision calculus, Cartwright said, ticking off these facts: a PAC interceptor costs $3.3 million; a THAAD missile costs $9 million; an SM-3 goes for about $10 million, and upgraded SM-3 will cost $13 million to $15 million; the Ground Based Interceptor previously planned for Europe would have cost $70 million each.

With the administration set to officially announce its plans to drop a missile defense approach, the likely winners look to be PAC-3, MEADS and THAAD. One of the other considerations in the administration's decision may be a bold effort to reassure Israel that the US is taking the Iranian threat to both Israeli and US forces in the region more seriously. Senior Pentagon leaders have made very clear they are working feverishly behind the scenes to stop Israel from attacking Iran's nuclear facilities. The other issue is protection of US forces in the region.

The White House referred obliquely to this in its fact sheet about the decision: "In the near-term, the greatest missile threats from Iran will be to U.S. Allies and partners, as well as to U.S. deployed personnel – military and civilian –and their accompanying families in the Middle East and in Europe."

And Cartwright said during the briefing that the Israeli Arrow ant-missile system would be part of the regional missile defense architecture, as would the X-band radar we sent them late last year.

PAC-3, of course, was designed to counter short- and medium-range missile threats, which the administration says are now the greatest threats to Europe from Iran. And MEADS is a more mobile system built by the US, Germany and Italy to provide NATO protection against the same sort of threats. THAAD takes out the medium-range threat. SM-3 can protect against medium- and long-range missiles, as was demonstrated when an SM-3 shot down the errant spy satellite, US 193.

[Here's an interview I filmed about land-based SM-3 with Mike Booen, Raytheon's vice president of advanced missile defense and directed energy, at this year's Paris Air Show.]

The first congressional reaction is out, from Sen. John McCain was the first Republican out with criticism of the administration's decision, calling it "seriously misguided." Also, he said the administration's decision may feed "Russian adventurism" because "this decision calls into question the security and diplomatic commitments the United States has made to Poland and the Czech Republic, and has the potential to undermine perceived American leadership in Eastern Europe."

GOP lawmakers generally criticized the administration's decision, saying Russia would read it as a sign of weakness and our allies would feel betrayed, or, at the least, confused. The co-chairman of the House Missile Defense Caucus, Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) accused President Obama of having "disgraced this nation by breaking his word to loyal and courageous allies in the Czech Republic and Poland."

Trent went on to say the president "has also endangered this and coming generations from a possible missile attack from Iran or other rogue States in the Middle East who may soon attain ballistic missile capability."

Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, offered a more supportive and measured view of the administration's decision. "The President’s decision focuses on fielding effective capabilities to defend our forward deployed force and allies in Europe against the real and existing missile threat from Iran, which consists of short- and medium-range missiles, rather than only against a potential future long-range threat, he said.

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