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NATO summit brings BMD details into focus

Europe has "interim operational capability" on its American missile defense shield, alliance leaders agreed on Sunday. They also answered some -- but not all -- of the pressing questions about how it might actually work in practice.

The U.S. ambassador to NATO, Ivo Daalder, said in Chicago that the Euro-shield won't reach "initial operational capability" until 2015, but for now, American Aegis warships and an alliance radar station in Turkey will do the job if there's a crisis.

Daalder also described how the alliance may have solved one of the trickiest problems with the Euro-shield: Command and control. In the early days, it wasn't clear how NATO, the world champion of bureaucratic ossification, would handle a mission that can require decisions and orders in less than a second. This weekend, NATO's heads of state agreed that giving a launch order would not require a plenary session; instead, that job will fall to one of its top commanders.

Said Daalder:

We agreed to a set of command and control procedures for ballistic missile defense. We designated the Supreme Allied Commander of Europe, Adm. Jim Stavridis, as the commander for the ballistic defense mission. We have tested and validated the command and control capability by all 28 allies. We have agreements with four countries -- Spain, Turkey, Romania, Poland -- to host U.S. missile defense assets. Allies themselves have committed to invest over $1 billion in command and control and communications infrastructure needed to support the NATO ballistic missile defense system. And the president has directed the transfer of the operational control of the radar in Turkey to NATO. U.S. missile defense ships are already in the Mediterranean and they are able to operate under NATO command -- under NATO operational control when necessary in a crisis.
Those last words are important: We've heard American officials say before that the U.S. warships that will provide missile defense for Europe will keep their multi-mission capability, so they won't just have to sail in figure-8s with their radars running. As Daalder has phrased it, "when necessary in a crisis," it sounds like the four Aegis destroyers that will be based in Rota, Spain will spend most of their time doing other missions, and only handle missile defense occasionally.

That's until the Aegis Ashore stations are up and running on the Continent, but in the meantime, the Navy -- to its initial surprise and subsequent delight -- will be doing the heavy lifting. Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert has welcomed the chance to put four DDGs in Rota; it's one of the points on his go-to PowerPoint slide about the Navy's "bases" and "places." Navy, Pentagon and White House officials weren't always so open and cheerful about the BMD mission; in the early days, they wouldn't even specify that it was being build to defend against an Iranian threat.

But here's what Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes said on Sunday:

With respect to Iran, when we took office we took a hard look at our missile defense planning and we redesigned a missile defense system that we felt was focused on a careful threat assessment. And it was our assessment that the greatest ballistic missile defense -- or ballistic missile threat to the Alliance and to the United States and our interests was from Iran, for instance. And so we have designed a system that will be focused on threats emanating from that part of the region and particularly from Iran. And that is a system that, of course, is going to continue to come online.
OK -- and just how much of Europe does this "interim" phase of the shield cover? Explained Daalder:
Right now, it is a part of southern Europe that will be able to be covered. After -- we right now have only ship deployed that is possibly dedicated to NATO. We have the radar in southeast -- in Turkey. As over time, as more ships come online -- and by 2014 we should have about four ships into the Mediterranean -- that footprint for the defense will extend to larger and larger parts.

IOC relates to the command-and-control capability of the NATO system. By 2015, we have said we will deploy land-based Aegis SM-3 interceptors in Romania in 2018; by 2018 in Poland. As you deploy more capability, interceptor capability and more ships with radars, the ability to protect more and more of Europe will increase with the threat moving from short- to medium-range missiles today to intermediate-range ballistic missiles, and in phase four of our system to intercontinental ballistic missiles by 2020.

He declined to identify the specific countries covered by BMD today ("that's an operational decision we won't go into," he said) but Daalder did say that because the system is "mobile," it can move in response to the threat. Show Full Article

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