Leadership: Peace In Our Time

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September 20, 2009: The U.S. recently announced that it will not install an anti-missile system in East Europe. Russia has always opposed this system, while East European nations favored it. But the big problem here is the timing of the cancellation. That's because Poland, and other East European nations recently had some harsh words for Russia during numerous ceremonies commemorating the 70th anniversary of the start of World War II. It's generally forgotten that, during the first two years of World War II, Germany and Russia were allies, and had cooperated on the invasion of Poland in 1939 (partitioning the country between them), and subsequent invasions all over Europe. Russia also has a long history of threatening and bullying its neighbors, particularly those to the west.

In response to the 70th anniversary ill will, some Russian publications sought to blame Poland for the start of World War II. This was extreme, even by Russian standards. But many Russians are still sensitive about what went on during the communist years, especially the massive atrocities committed in the name of communism, and Russia. Blaming it all on "outsiders" is an easy escape, until the outsiders reply. Russian prime minister Putin tried to defuse the situation by writing an editorial for publication in Poland, where he disavowed the extremist Russian articles about Poland, and admitted that Russia had sometimes behaved badly towards its European neighbors in the past. This calmed things down a bit, but East Europeans still consider Russia a dangerous, and unpredictable, neighbor. Now the U.S. appears to be doing what Western Europe did in the 1930s, and after World War II, abandoning Eastern Europe to Russian aggression.

Meanwhile, the Russians continue to insist that the American GBI (Ground Based Interceptor) anti-missile system, that was to be installed in Poland (to protect Europe from Iranian threats to use its ballistic missiles), was actually meant to harm Russia. Russian politicians had created a political monster by insisting that the ten GBI missiles would threaten the viability of the hundreds of Russian ballistic missiles aimed at Europe. This is absurd, but Russian politicians  painted themselves into a corner. Last month, a compromise was offered. The U.S. would withdraw the GBI, and replace it with the much cheaper, and "less threatening" (but just as scary to the Iranians), ground based Aegis system. The Russians tuned that down as well. Nothing must interfere with Russia's ability to threaten Europe, especially Eastern Europe.

The American GBI (Ground Based Interceptor) system consists of a powerful radar system, and 12.7 ton ballistic missiles that delivers a 140 pound "kill vehicle" that will intercept a ballistic missile before it begins its descent into the atmosphere. The GBI kill vehicle can maneuver to destroy the incoming missile, while avoiding decoys. The U.S. is installing GBIs in Alaska and in California. More were on their way to Poland.

The GBI can receive target information from a variety of source, mainly a large X-band radar and space based sensors (that can detect ballistic missiles during their initial launch.) The U.S. plans to install 5-10 GBIs a year over the next few years, until 30 are in service. Each GBI costs over $100 million (up to several hundred million dollars, depending on how many are built and how you allocated development costs.) The GBI can intercept ballistic missiles launched from as far away as 5,000 kilometers.

The 18 U.S. Navy Aegis (radar) equipped ships have achieved an 83 percent success rate in using its SM-3 missiles to shoot down ballistic missiles during live test firings. The RIM-161A, also known as the Standard Missile 3 (or SM-3), has a range of over 500 kilometers and max altitude of over 160 kilometers. The Standard 3 is based on the anti-missile version of the Standard 2 (SM-2 Block IV). This SM-2 missile turned out to be effective against ballistic missile warheads that are closer to their target. One test saw a SM-2 Block IV missile destroy a warhead that was only 19 kilometers up. An SM-3 missile can destroy a warhead that is more than 200 kilometers up. But the SM-3 is only good for anti-missile work, while the SM-2 Block IV can be used against both ballistic missiles and aircraft. The SM-2 Block IV also costs less than half what a three million dollar SM-3.

The SM-3 has four stages. The first two boost the interceptor out of the atmosphere. The third stage fires twice to boost the interceptor farther beyond the earth's atmosphere. Prior to each motor firing it takes a GPS reading to correct course for approaching the target. The fourth stage is the 20 pound LEAP kill vehicle, which uses infrared sensors to close on the target and ram it. The Aegis system was designed to operate aboard warships (cruisers and destroyers that have been equipped with the special software that enables the AEGIS radar system to detect and track incoming ballistic missiles). However, there is also a land based version that Israel is interested in buying. There is already one of these; the original development Aegis system built on land to debug and test Aegis before installing it on ships. Land based Aegis would cost about $50 million, plus the costs of the SM-3 missiles.

The U.S. believes ship based Aegis systems in the Persian Gulf could also protect Europe, But the East Europeans are having none of it, and sense yet another betrayal by the rest of Europe and America. In East Europe, it's not forgotten how a British prime minister announced, in 1938, that he had achieved, "peace in our time" by making a deal with the devil (Adolf Hitler). Back then, no one trusted Russia. For those with long memories, it's difficult to trust Russia even today.

 


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