How reliably promising is THAAD

Missile defense

Above all, the traditional allies of the Americans - Japan and Australia - are more willing than ever to cooperate with Washington.

But not only in Asia, but also in Europe, the question of missile defense has moved almost unnoticed by the public. The feasibility study commissioned at the NATO summit in Prague in November 2002 on the conceptual design of missile defense in the Euro-Atlantic area shows this. This is not just about protecting European and American intervention forces, but also about protecting European territory in the long term.

The United States has a 50-year history of research and development in ballistic missile defense. Ballistic missiles are traditionally categorized according to their range. While defense against short-range ballistic missiles / SRBM (up to 1000 km) and defense against medium-range ballistic missiles / MRBM (1 to 3000 km) is called theater defense, defense against intermediate range is called Ballistic Missiles / IRBM (3 to 5500 km) and the Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles / ICBM (over 5500 km) as strategic defense or National Missile Defense (NMD).

The defense against ballistic missiles is generally a technically challenging task. The missiles, which are called ballistic due to their elliptical trajectory, are faster the greater the range (three to twelve times the speed of sound). Due to these high speeds, extremely short reaction times must be observed. The small areas of the ballistic missile reflect only a few radar beams, which are required for locating and calculating the flight path. The actual target of the defense is the missile's warhead, because the burned-out propulsion section is usually thrown off at the end of the launch phase. It is particularly important in the case of attacking missiles of low and medium range to avoid the impact of the warhead on the target to be protected. Because if the fight is too close to the target, warheads with weapons of mass destruction (WMD) can still cause great damage. In order to be able to maintain the desired protected area, the defense missile must be able to quickly distinguish the warhead from ejected decoys (“discrimination”) and ignore electronic distance jammers. The problem of decoys thus represents one of the central challenges for the functionality of a missile defense system. Missile defense must therefore be able to technically solve the challenges arising from the factors of speed, time, the need for discrimination and accuracy

According to plans by the Bush administration, the attacking missiles should mostly be carried out using so-called "hit-to-kill" technology. The enemy warhead is supposed to be pulverized by the kinetic energy generated when it collides with an anti-aircraft missile (kill vehicle). However, this is a technically controversial concept.

In principle, three flight phases are conceivable for combating ballistic missiles: start, end and middle phase. In the start or ascent phase ("Boost / Ascent phase") there are tactical advantages. On the one hand, the missile is easy to locate due to the infrared signature of the drive section. On the other hand, the debris / WMD, which would result from a successful fight, would remain over the area of ​​the aggressor. Furthermore, the missile has not yet initiated any deceptive measures. The disadvantage of fighting in the start phase, which has not yet been resolved, can be seen in the extremely short period of time that would be available for locating, identifying and fighting (up to 150 seconds). Combat in the middle flight phase ("Midcourse Phase") appears to be more promising. Depending on the distance, more time would be available (5 to 12 minutes) than in the other two phases. Furthermore, the missile flies relatively stable; The flight path and the time of the attack become more predictable. The problem of discrimination and “hit-to-kill” remains decisive here.

Combat in the final phase (“Terminal Phase”), on the other hand, is the most technologically advanced, but also the most dangerous. With the time available (less than a minute), the defense systems have to work extremely reliably, and even then, damage in the protected area in the event of an attack with WMD cannot be avoided. In this respect, early warning and target briefing are of crucial importance. That is why the United States is developing a mix of the actual defense and additional reconnaissance systems (satellite networks).

Political objective of the Bush administration

As a presidential candidate, George W. Bush made it clear that the implementation of national missile defense would have priority for him as quickly as possible: "... to build an effective missile defense ... at the earliest possible date" .2 This will of the Bush administration was also confirmed In the increasing expenditures for the Missile Defense Agency (MDA), which is responsible for coordinating the individual programs, the budget for missile defense rose from 3.7 billion dollars in the financial year 2000 to 7.7 billion dollars in the financial year 2004.

The American government justifies the need for a missile defense system from the continued spread of ballistic missiles and the further development of existing arsenals by states hostile to the USA. A study by the American National Intelligence Council in December 2001 came to the conclusion that the United States could be threatened by ICBMs from North Korea and Iran by 2015.3 The events of September 11, 2001, in the understanding of the Bush administration, underscore the need for one functioning missile defense system. The US Department of Defense made this clear in the Quadrennial Defense Review published shortly after the attacks in September 2001.4 President Bush justified the United States' withdrawal from the ABM Treaty with the threat posed by terrorism: “We know that the terrorists, and some of those who support them, seek the ability to deliver death and destruction to our doorstep via missile ".5

In the view of the American government, deterrence in the classic understanding of the Cold War is no longer an effective means of effectively protecting the security of the USA and its citizens. For this reason, the US National Security Strategy of September 20026 also calls for the expansion of passive protection options such as missile defense. The termination of the ABM Treaty from 1972 in December 2001 was the logical consequence for the Bush administration from the existing threat situation. Contrary to what many observers feared, this termination did not lead to an arms race between the USA and Russia.

However, the question of missile defense has taken a back seat over the past 18 months. Other developments, particularly the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, have absorbed public attention far more than missile defense has been able to do. In fact, on December 17, 2002, the Bush administration presented very ambitious goals for the implementation of missile defense programs. The first operational components for a national missile defense system in Alaska (Fort Greely) and California (Vandenberg Air Force Base) are to be completed by September 2004.

Status of the programs

The Bush administration has abolished the classic distinction between site-based and national missile defense and united all programs under one roof. Nevertheless, the work on the programs continues individually as before. In doing so, however, an attempt is made to use technology once it has developed in several programs and to test the programs that are developed for defense against the scene in terms of their ability to further develop into the strategic dimension. Seven main programs are currently running:

1.Ground-Based Midcourse Defense,

2. Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense,

3. Airborn Laser (ABL),

4. Theater High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD),

5.Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3),

6. Space Tracking and Surveillance System (STSS),

7. Space-based Infrared System-high (SBIRS-high).

The first five systems are actual defense programs, while the last two are used for clarification and preliminary instruction.

1. The "Ground-Based Midcourse Defense" program (called National Missile Defense in the Clinton administration) consists of ground-based missiles that hit the attacking missile in the middle phase of flight by means of hit-to-kill outside the atmosphere (over 100 km altitude). Only this program is currently intended for defense against strategic ballistic missiles. This is also the system that will be deployed in Alaska and California from September 2004. Of the eight tests carried out so far, five have been successful; However, the test conditions did not correspond to the required capability profile, as no countermeasures of the attacking missile were simulated. The anti-warhead launch vehicle has not yet been adequately tested either. The carrier is two years behind schedule. Furthermore, the instruction and management instruments (satellites / radar) that are urgently needed for a successful operation will not be ready for use before the end of 2005.

2. The "Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense" program (under Clinton: Navy Theater Wide) is sea-based and can be classified as defense against the theater. This is an air defense system installed on cruisers of the American Navy. The associated missile (SM-3) is based on "hit-to-kill" technology and was originally only aimed at combating missiles with short or medium range. It is planned to improve Aegis in such a way that it can fight not only missiles of short / medium range, but also those of strategic range at least in the medium flight phase, if possible already in the start phase. It should also be able to fend off short / medium range missiles in the final phase.

However, two reports from the Pentagon have found that the radar in particular is unable to defend against strategic missiles and that the SM-3 missile is too slow. After three successful tests and one unsuccessful test, the most recent test on December 11, 2003 was successful. However, even these tests did not correspond to the real threat, as the attacking missiles were slower and larger than those to be expected. The aim is to station up to 20 new anti-aircraft missiles on three ships in 2004/05 and to equip around 15 ships with improved radar equipment. However, this program is also behind schedule and testing of the system against strategic range missiles is not expected to begin before 2007/08.

3. Another defense system is the "Airborne Laser" (ABL). This laser will be mounted on board a modified Boeing 747 and will be produced by chemical reaction. Originally also conceived as a site-specific defense, in the future it should be able to fight all types of missiles in the launch phase. While the laser is still under development, the first test flight was carried out on July 18, 2002. The first attempt at control will not take place before the end of 2004, but was planned by the Clinton administration for 2003. According to a conservative estimate, the first airworthy specimen cannot be expected before 2005/06.

4. The next system is the Theater High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) program. Its missile consists of a single-stage propulsion section plus a "hit-to-kill" warhead and is fired from a truck-supported launcher. Its combat mission includes short / medium range missiles in the final phase or in the last part of the middle flight phase both inside and outside the atmosphere (between 35 and 120 km altitude). After six failed tests between April 1995 and March 1999, two successful tests were carried out in the summer of 1999. The missile is in a redesign phase; first test flights are expected in 2004 and first defense tests in 2006. Accordingly, stationing is not foreseen before 2007/08.

5. The last decisive defense system Patriot (in its third improved version "Patriot Advanced Capability-3" / PAC-3) connects with its combat area in the theater-based defense to THAAD: It should missile short / medium range in the final phase below the for THAAD fend off the intended heights (less than 35 km). PAC-3 consists of a single-stage missile that is launched from mobile launching positions. In the tests, which were carried out - albeit under easier conditions - PAC-3 achieved a hit rate of nine out of ten targets. The PAC-3s, which are still in test operation, were brought into the third Gulf War with around 50 missiles. There they successfully shot down two Iraqi short-range missiles, including that of a US fighter jet.7 Although they appeared to be functional in principle, there is still room for improvement in various components. The plans aim to deliver around 350 PAC-3 missiles to the armed forces by 2005.

6. The Space Tracking and Surveillance System is to track enemy missiles for the duration of the entire flight and pass the data on to the defense. The first two STSS satellites will not be launched before 2007. The Pentagon estimates that at least 18 satellites are required to achieve an operationally sufficient status to monitor sensitive areas (global: 30).

7. Space-based Infrared System-high is used for reconnaissance and early warning of hostile take-offs. It is estimated that four satellites will be required for SBIRS-high, although the first will not be fully available before 2008.

This list shows that from today's perspective it is unlikely that the USA will install a fully operational missile defense system in September 2004. The need for technical development of the individual, overlapping systems that are supposed to guarantee complementary protection is still too great for this.

The European dimension

For the European partners, the issue of missile defense focused on the one hand on concerns about possible global arms races and on the other hand on the fear of the creation of zones of different security in the Atlantic area. There was hardly any discussion of the risks of missile proliferation. In German politics in particular, missile defense is still perceived as problematic. Essentially, this is due to an insufficiently processed threat perception and a traditional rejection of missile defense in parts of the parties that support the federal government

The United States has repeatedly tried in recent years to place missile defense on the NATO agenda. In recent years, the Europeans have gradually moved towards the USA: In June 2002, the NATO defense ministers initially advocated the establishment of a site-specific defense system to protect deployed troops.9 On the Prague NATO- At the summit, it was decided to work out a feasibility study for a future missile defense system. The aim of the study is to develop options for the protection of NATO territory, population centers and armed forces against the entire spectrum of ballistic missiles.10 This means a qualitative further development beyond the mere concentration on site-specific defense. Well-known international companies such as Boeing, Diehl, Thales, EADS, Raytheon, Alenia and IABG are involved in the preparation of the study.

Another area is closer direct cooperation between European allies and the USA. In July 2003, Great Britain signed an agreement with the government in Washington that enables the United States to use the radar system in Fylingdales, which is important for the functionality of a missile defense system.11 German-American-Italian cooperation in the area of ​​the planned MEADS (Medium Extended Air Defense System) points in the right direction due to the mobile protection for deployed troops. The future of the system is uncertain in two respects: On the one hand, the USA intends to downgrade the status of MEADS as an independent program and to transform it into a sub-program of PAC-3; on the other hand, there are budgetary reservations on the German side.

The European Union has not yet taken a clear position on the issue of missile defense. As the EU security strategy adopted in December 2003 and the European Council's declaration on the non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction of June 2003 show, however, the Europeans and the USA share the threat perception.12 However, there are still no considerations and concepts regarding the establishment of a missile defense system with participation of the EU or its member states.

The current Russian policy can best be described as ambivalent: On the one hand there are efforts to improve their own ballistic missile capacities in order to guarantee a safe overcoming of an American missile defense system, and on the other hand there is a will to cooperate with the USA and of NATO.

The future of missile defense

The Bush administration's plans to accelerate the development of general missile defense show that it has the political will to vigorously promote missile defense. This can be seen in the planned deployment of the first components in 2004, although a fully operational system cannot yet be put into service.

The latest developments within NATO demonstrate an increased willingness of Europeans not only to participate in site-based missile defense. This is the result of years of discussion. Europeans are moving closer to the United States' strategic dialogue in this area. This is largely due to developments in the field of ballistic missile proliferation in the Near and Middle East (particularly Iran and Syria). Due to its importance in NATO and the EU, Germany in particular must have a vital interest in the further development of this strategic dialogue and conduct it openly and constructively.


1 Cf. Grams, The Middle Extended Air Defense System MEADS: History, Idea, Realization, "Strategic Analyzes" series of the Institute for Strategic Analyzes (ISA), Vol. 8, Frankfurt / Bonn 2003, pp. 65 ff.

2 Quoted from Ilan Berman, The way ahead for Missile Defense, in: Journal of International Security Affairs, Summer 2003, pp. 41–50, here p. 42.

3 See National Intelligence Council, Foreign Missile Developments and the Ballistic Missile Threat Through 2015, Washington 2001, p. 3 (available on the CIA website at ).

4 See Donald Rumsfeld, Quadrennial Defense Review Report 2001, Washington 2001, p. 42.

5 President Discusses National Missile Defense, December 13, 2001 .

6 Cf. the (abbreviated) print in: Internationale Politik (IP), 12/2002, p. 113 ff.

7 Dennis M. Gormley, Missile Defense Myopia: Lessons from the Iraq War, in: Survival, Jg. 45, No. 4, Winter 2003/2004, pp. 61–86, here p. 65.

8 See Benjamin Schreer, Germany and U.S. Missile Defense: The Case for Real Debate, in: German Issues 27, American Institute for Contemporary German Studies, Washington 2002, pp. 49–50.

9 NATO Press Release, Statement on Capabilities, Issued at the Meeting of the North Atlantic Council in Defense Ministers Session ; German in: IP, 7/2002, p. 125 ff.

10 NATO Press Release, NATO Missile Defense Advances, , June 12, 2003.

11 See Richard Norton-Tylor, National Roundup: Britain in secret star wars deal, in: The Guardian, 13.6.2003.

12 Cf. Javier Solana, A Secure Europe in a Better World, Thessaloniki, June 20, 2003, as well as the declaration on the non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction adopted there, printed in: IP, 9/2003, pp. 107 ff. And p. 105 f See also the contribution by Fraser Cameron in this episode, p. 39 ff.

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