WASHINGTON — The U.S. government has invited Russia to observe an intercept test of its Aegis sea-based missile defense system as part of an effort to ease Moscow’s concerns with plans for a European missile shield, according to a U.S. State Department official.
The demonstration involving the Standard Missile (SM)-3 interceptor would give some transparency to the NATO defense plan, which initially will rely on the U.S. Navy’s Aegis ships, Ellen Tauscher, State’s special envoy for strategic stability and missile defense, said. The idea is to reassure Moscow that the U.S blueprint for European missile defense poses no threat to Moscow’s strategic nuclear deterrent.
The U.S. government is not proposing to provide Russia with telemetry data, hit-to-kill missile defense technology or any other classified information, Tauscher said March 26 during the 10th annual U.S. Missile Defense Conference here sponsored jointly by the Missile Defense Agency and the American Institute for Aeronautics and Astronautics. “Rather, we are offering for them to operate in international waters, giving them the time of launch of our target, which we provide to mariners and airmen as normal course,” she said. “This will be a good first step in transparency measures with the Russian Federation, allowing them to see for themselves, what we are saying about our system is accurate.”
U.S. President Barack Obama’s so-called Phased Adaptive Approach for European missile defense initially calls for Aegis ships equipped with SM-3 interceptors and associated radar and fire-control systems to patrol near Europe, such as in the Mediterranean. This would be followed by deployment of an early warning radar and, eventually, SM-3 variants on European soil.
Administration officials say the system is intended to counter the growing missile threat from Middle Eastern nations, primarily Iran.
Tauscher noted that the U.S. government has secured agreements from Turkey to host the radar, Romania to host the initial land-based SM-3 site — Poland would host a subsequent site — and Spain to provide a home port for Aegis destroyers.
“The next big demonstration of our progress will come at the NATO Summit in Chicago in May,” Tauscher said. “We expect NATO to announce that it has achieved an interim capability. That basically means that Allies will start operating under the same playbook.”
Tauscher said Russia is seeking a “legal guarantee” with a set of technical criteria that would limit the ability of the United States to deploy future missile defense systems. Russia is also asking for data points for when U.S. ships enter certain waters and when an interceptor gains a certain velocity, Tauscher said.
“We certainly cannot accept limitations on where we deploy our Aegis ships,” she said. “These are multimission ships that are used for a variety of missions around the world, not just for missile defense. We also will not accept limitations on the capabilities and numbers of our missile defense systems.”
The U.S. government would, however, be willing to accept a political agreement that U.S. missile defenses are not aimed at Russia, Tauscher added.
Tauscher’s remarks came amid a rising tide of Republican congressional criticism of the administration’s engagement with Russia on missile defense matters.
Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said during the conference he is “skeptical” of plans to share missile defense technology with nations that target civilians. He said U.S. satellite data indicate that Russia used missiles against civilians in the Republic of Chechnya in 1999 and in neighboring Georgia in 2008.
“That is why I’m opposed to any effort to provide guarantees about our missile defense to nations like Russia,” McKeon said.
Rep. Michael Turner (R-Ohio), chairman of the House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee, has expressed concern that the administration might share classified information with Russia or agree to limit U.S. missile defense capabilities.
Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said missile defense cooperation could help deal with the threat posed by Iran and deserves bipartisan support in Congress.
“Cooperation between the United States and Russia would help wake up Iran to the situation she faces in the world and might help persuade Iran not to pursue long-range missiles and nuclear weapons,” Levin said during the conference. “That would be a huge plus for our security, and for the world’s security.”
Levin cited a report from an independent group dubbed the Euro-Atlantic Security Initiative that says missile defense cooperation between the United States and Russia would benefit both countries. The report called for the establishment of centers for the sharing of early warning radar and satellite data.
The Euro-Atlantic Security Initiative includes former senior U.S., European and Russian government officials.
The United States will hold strategic talks with Russia in the coming months in an attempt to find areas of cooperation, including missile defense.