Trans-Atlantic Missile Defense Program Stalls

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Last year’s hopes for a new era of trans-Atlantic cooperation in missile defense remain unfulfilled, as neither the United States nor its European allies appear ready to commit significant funds to any new joint programs.

The U.S. program most often cited as ripe for international participation was the Kinetic Energy Interceptor (KEI), a super-fast missile that would be capable of engaging enemy missiles in all phases of flight. But a bid to internationalize the program collapsed last year, according to Missile Defense Agency officials.

Northrop Grumman Corp. of Los Angeles won the contract to develop the KEI system in December 2003. In early 2004, the Missile Defense Agency announced an international KEI program intended to yield alternative system components such as boosters, kill vehicles and command and control systems.

Representatives from 22 Washington embassies showed up for a series of presentations on the international KEI effort last March. The following April, the Missile Defense Agency received 22 bids featuring U.S. and non-U.S. companies in various teaming arrangements. However, none of the bids met the requirement that the proposed project be funded 50 percent by the industry team, according to one Missile Defense Agency official.

Another senior agency said: “We got no indication from any country that they were willing to step up to that. I’m sure they’d all be grateful to participate with U.S. money, but that wasn’t the condition. We are committed to cooperating with our partners, but it’s not a one-way street.”

Late last year the U.S. Defense Department directed the Missile Defense Agency to trim its spending plans by $5 billion over the next six years, and KEI bore the brunt of that cut. The agency is seeking about $218 million for the effort in 2006 rather than roughly $1 billion as previously expected.

Meanwhile, European industry officials say they would need financial support from their respective governments before agreeing to invest in any substantial U.S.-led missile defense effort. Up to now, that support has not materialized anywhere in Europe.

Francois Auque, president of EADS Space, said his company, which has a missile defense cooperation agreement with Northr op Grumman, is waiting for European governments to signal whether they will join the U.S.-led missile defense effort.

EADS Space is prime contractor for France’s M51 strategic missile and also is prime contractor for France’s Spirale experimental missile-warning satellites, now in development. In addition, EADS is on a Science Applications International Corp. -led team that has been under contract to the NATO Consultation, Command and Control Agency to study missile defenses for NATO armed forces and population centers. The study is scheduled to be submitted to NATO governments late this year.

Some European officials have suggested that, instead of cash, Europe’s contribution could be a third site for hosting ground-based missile interceptors. There are two such sites in the United States: Fort Greely, Alaska, and Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif.

But such an arrangement probably would require approval from multiple European governments given the wide area over which missile debris could fall after an intercept over European territory. It also could require a treaty-level agreement on international collaboration to reduce the likelihood of a U.S. congressional veto over non-U.S. companies’ participation in a U.S. taxpayer-financed program, officials said.

One European government official said Europe likely would await the conclusion of the NATO study before deciding whether to enter into detailed negotiations with the United States on a division of authority and responsibility.

In any case, establishing a third interceptor site is off the table for now. The Missile Defense Agency, citing its Pentagon-mandated funding cut, has deferred the idea until further notice.

Chris Hellman, analyst at the Center for Arms Control and Non-proliferation, a Washington think-tank that opposes missile defense, said other countries remain skeptical of U.S. plans.

U.S. President George W. Bush’s commitment to missile defense is not in question , but it is not clear to other nations that future U.S. administrations will be equally committed, Hellman said.