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Defending Europe Against Ballistic Missile Blackmail

Defending Europe Against Ballistic Missile Blackmail

Analysis and proposals for a European Defense against the threat of proliferating ballistic missiles by Didier Compard, Senior Advisor and International Defense Consultant. Paris, May 15, 2003 (Ó).

Didier Compard (Photo Ó European-Security)

With its destructive power, its range, its capability for survival and penetration, the ballistic missile with a nuclear warhead has been the "ultimate weapon" for over 35 years, bestowing very special power and status upon the few nations that possess them.

President Jacques Chirac clearly stated in his speech to the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de Defense Nationale) on June 8, 2001: "It is undeniable, that the risks associated with proliferation, even if they are not new, take on a new dimension when the devastating characteristics of weapons of mass destruction are combined with the means of long distance propulsion provided by ballistic technology."

For the first time, a weapon, as soon as its use is envisaged, has the power to neutralize all of the other attributes of military power. This "equalizing" role makes the nuclear ballistic missile the central element in deterrence, both for the "strong against the strong," and the" weak against the strong." For this reason it has prevented any direct confrontation between the members of the very small club of nations that deploy and operate these systems.

It isn’t surprising that new countries are seeking to acquire nuclear ballistic missiles, or failing that, and on a transitory basis, are building degraded versions with conventional, chemical or even bacteriological warheads. The Gulf Wars showed the world what the threat of ballistic vectors could represent.

Medium/Long range missiles:

  • have a flight time of only a few minutes giving little time for early warning,
  • are almost undetectable when they are fired from mobile platforms,
  • have a definite growth potential enabling a nation to increase its range or, to adapt all types of warheads.

Often, new candidates for the possession of a vector for the ultimate weapon are not industrially developed democratic states. To the contrary, they are in many cases aggressive dictatorships, sometimes with irrational behavior, rather under developed industrially and scientifically.

The threat for Europe is uncontrolled proliferation of such capabilities. This ballistic threat is growing and badly understood.

Proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, of vectors and their technologies is a widely recognized fact. These weapons will not be un-invented.

  • The performances of "proliferated" ballistic missiles are increasing rapidly

Above about 600 km range, the missile warheads can be separated. Measures which are simple to implement can reduce the radar signature of these warheads, and also amplify their movements at reentry in the atmosphere, adding rudimentary penetration aides to complicate defenses.

Above about 1,500 km range, missiles have several stages.

International tension and mastery of stage separation explain the rapid increase in the range of Ballistic missiles since 1998. One of the main stumbling blocks to the acquisition of long range missiles has now been eliminated.

Terminal precision of proliferated ballistic missiles is still mediocre. It’s one of the reasons why the proliferating countries are seeking to acquire chemical, biological (which might or might not contain sub-munitions) and/or radiological warheads, then afterwards to acquire nuclear weapons .

We must also stress that a single flight test of a ballistic missile is sufficient as a political weapon, and can be used for subtle or even more blatant blackmail.

Intimidation and terror are the new menaces, Missile Blackmail is becoming a major threat.

  • The United States Is Deploying Its "Missile Defense"….

The objectives of Missile Defense (MD) are much more realistic that those intended under the Strategic Defense Initiative proposed by President Reagan. MD in fact, aims to be a protection against a limited attack perpetrated by means of several ballistic missiles, or against an accidental or unauthorized launch.

Missile Defense is based on a real desire for protection (National Missile Defense Act of 1999), resulting in large-scale programs supported by strong political determination. The budgets are voted, and it they may seem large, they represent a modest effort for the United States (less than 2% of the defense budget).

MD will allow the United States to acquire an impressive technological base, and their capability-driven" approach will enable rapid and pragmatic deployment. Systems are deployed as soon as they are ready, thus providing an initial protecting capacity.

On December 17, 2002, President George W. Bush announced the deployment in 2004/2005 of an initial, limited operational capacity.

Missile Defense is also motivated by objectives that the United States makes no effort to hide: to irrigate their space and defense industries on one hand, and to dominate in space on the other. Missile Defense, in fact, is supported by space surveillance capabilities (identification of objects, flight path analysis, discrimination), and means of access or use of space (exo-atmospheric interceptors, high power lasers).

  • It’s "Space Dominance"

But Europe is concerned. The United States have amplified their efforts to acquire this Space Dominance in the framework of a colossal military budget of more than a billion dollars per day.

They abrogated the ABM treaty, opening the way for a certain type of militarization in space, but permitting exchanges with other countries. Fully determined to deploy such as system, they have called upon their allies and friends to cooperate with them on missile defense.

On June 13, 2002, George W Bush promised to deploy an antimissile defense system as soon as possible in order to protect the American people and US forces in the field against the growing threats we are facing. Because these threats also place allies and friends in the world in danger, he declared that it is essential that we work together for our mutual protection, an important task that the ABM treaty prohibited. The United States strengthened the dialogue and cooperation with other nations in the domain of anti-missile defense.

Taking the world-wide dimension of the ballistic threat into account, it is certain that an efficient defense system should be built under the auspices of a vast international cooperative venture. Europeans can fear, however that a unilateral deployment or one like the JSF, might not correctly consider their interests and their specificities, and that this would lead to too great a dependency, or even to the abandonment of sovereignty.

Deployment in Europe has begun, since the United States has officially asked permission to modernize the BMEWS advanced warning radars in Fylingdales in the United Kingdom and at Thule in Greenland (Denmark). The United Kingdom has already accepted.

It is therefore, probable that the United States will put early warning radars in their shield.

Considering the width of the coverage of the American exo-atmospheric interceptors, with footprints of several thousand kilometers, all of Europe should, de facto, be under the American umbrella by 2010.

  • Europe Cannot Ignore the US Initiative and Europe must recognize the threat. It is a priority.

France first, with Europe afterwards, must give itself autonomous means to appreciate threats associated with the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, ballistic missiles and terrorism. Ballistic proliferation should, in particular be monitored with the highest vigilance. One must understand and determine the credibility of information, which comes mainly from American sources. Certain structured Euro-Atlantic cooperation efforts could be initiated in this domain, but we should have, on the national, and then on the European level, the potential and the autonomous assets for surveillance, intelligence gathering and evaluation of proliferation in general, especially for ballistic vectors, so as to ascertain the credibility of American claims.

A "Proliferation Cell" should be created on the national level to prepare for a European one. It would gather and analyse information relative to proliferation and would be in charge of ensuring the coherence of specific intelligence research concerning observations by aerial vehicles or satellites, inspections, credibility determination (with the support of the best industrial experts) and anticipating the threat of proliferation, notably to cue intelligence gathering efforts.

As far as technologies and assets to be acquired are concerned, an autonomous satellite system should be envisaged, with complementary ground and airborne systems. Priority should be given to an autonomous satellite system for detection of ballistic missile launches and their characterization.

This element is common to all of the policies that could be envisaged in the fight against proliferation:

  • monitoring of proliferation,
  • warning to the population,
  • warning and designation to radars and other sensors involved in active defense,
  • locating and identifying the aggressor.

On January 22, 2003, the Franco-German Council on Defense and Security, as a part of the actions which were taken during the 40th anniversary of the Elysee Treaty, requested that an analysis of the threat represented by the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their vectors be elaborated. The resulting document is to be proposed to the European Union.

A "Permanent European Center for Analysis" of the threat is what should be created in order to:

-- Report on the nature of the ballistic threat on the basis of open and classified information,

-- Do advanced analyses to cue intelligence gathering,

-- Anticipate sharing information coming from systems for detection and monitoring at European level.

  • An Active Defense Based on Tw Systems: Endo (1) and Exo (2) Atmospheric

Endo: low altitude interception, inferior to 40 km

Exo: high altitude interception, between 100 and 2,000 km

An endo-atmospheric defense is necessary to intercept ballistic missiles with a range inferior to 1,500 kilometers.

Development work is underway in Germany, France, Italy and the United Kingdom (Aster Block1, MSR radar, MEADS, SAMOC, etc.).

This development should be continued and accelerated to acquire theatre defense systems for projected forces and point defense.

Against ballistic missiles with ranges over 1,500 kilometers, an exo-atmospheric defense is necessary.

The special case of the exo-atmospheric component:

Only one of these two complementary components is under development: endo-atmospheric defense.

No such project is underway for the exo-atmospheric component, even though the ballistic threat is growing, and most of the development work in America is precisely in the high altitude domain, with a dimension of control and mastery of space that cannot be ignored.

Developing low altitude defenses is insufficient because the skills and the technologies involved in the exo-atmospheric domain are very different from those in endo-atmospheric defense.

While "endo" is based on know-how and technologies extrapolated from anti-aircraft defense, "exo" depends on ballistic and space techniques.

Preparing an exo-atmospheric defense would have a double merit:

  • accompanying the rapid increase of the ballistic threat,
  • providing Europe with a capacity to negotiate with the United States on MD with noble contributions.

The recent French decision to launch the development of a demonstrator satellite for advanced warning is a good start.

Europe has skills and technologies that are good for "exo." We can mention:

-- An understanding of the ballistic threat: ballistic systems and their flight tests.

-- The development of ballistic and tactical ballistic missile systems for the national deterrent in France has given France exceptional, even unique skills in this domain.

Mastery of automatic rendezvous in space (Automated Transfer Vehicle program), that will perform its first rendezvous with the International Space Station in 2004.

Satellite launchers (Ariane and the others) orbital infrastructure and satellites.

Europe’s delay in face of the threat and with regards to MD deployment doesn’t come from weakness in competence or technologies, but from the absence of a federating project which would integrate the assets.

A demonstration of European capacities in exo-atmospheric interception would make it possible to integrate this competence and these technologies.

  • What is Europe's interest and what should its line of action be ?

National territorial defense should be European by political choice, but also because of budgetary and geographical considerations (a country being protected by assets spread out over several countries). In the European framework, several competent countries could and should unite their means in a joint project within the European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP) to:

  • Play the major role in the protection of European citizens against ballistic missiles,
  • Launch federating demonstrators (an early warning satellite is already foreseen in France, the exo atmospheric kill vehicle has yet to be launched),
  • To obtain a position to negotiate on a solid basis with the United States, to include "noble" European contributions allowing for a well balanced Euro-Atlantic co-operative effort, and to avoid the JSF aircraft-type trap,

These works would also contribute to maintaining the competence in Strategic Missile Systems, and European space activities, with considerable returns for industry, especially in the field of mastering space.

In general, they would enable Europe to stay in the game, both in civil and military space, thanks to the dual technologies to be developed, while allowing a fair and more equilibrated co-operation with the United States on an inescapable global Missile Defense system.

Ó Didier Compard


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Directeur de la publication : Joël-François Dumont
Comité de rédaction : Jacques de Lestapis, Hugues Dumont, François de Vries (Bruxelles), Hans-Ulrich Helfer (Suisse), Michael Hellerforth (Allemagne).
Comité militaire : VAE Guy Labouérie (†), GAA François Mermet (2S), CF Patrice Théry (Asie).