US begins fielding European missile defence technology while congressional auditors call for greater transparency


NATO Watch News Brief, 29 March

The US plan to defend Europe from ballistic missiles reached a milestone in early March with the first deployment of missile defence technology as part of the ‘phased adaptive approach’ to European missile defence.  The USS Monterey -- equipped with the Aegis radar system that can track ballistic missiles at long ranges and transfer the data to ground-based missile defence sites – has deployed from its home port of Norfolk, Va., for a six-month tour in the Mediterranean Sea. The ship will participate in missile defence exercises and help to lay the foundation for future deployments.

President Barack Obama approved the phased, adaptive approach to European ballistic missile defence in 2009, and NATO agreed to the plan at its November 2010 Lisbon Summit. Other ships capable of ballistic missile defence have been deployed by the US to the Mediterranean since 2009, but this is the first to go under the new NATO-led plan. The approach will begin with existing technology and add more sophisticated systems now in development to build sea- and land-based missile defence systems in Europe throughout the rest of this decade. The second phase is expected to include the deployment of a land-based interceptor sites in Romania (in 2015) and Poland (in 2018). The interceptor, the Standard Missile-3 IB, or SM-3 IB, is currently in development.

However, in a report published last week, the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) said the Defense Department had not yet finished putting in place a procedure for overseeing procurements for European missile defence. "Without key management and oversight processes, there is a limited basis for oversight, and there is a risk that key components will start production before demonstrating system performance", a report summary states. "In the past, similar deficiencies in missile defense acquisition oversight have led to rework, cost increases, delays, and doubts about delivered capabilities".

GAO officials also "found [Missile Defense Agency] unit and life-cycle cost baselines had unexplained inconsistencies and documentation for six baselines had insufficient evidence to be a high-quality cost estimate" and "as a result, GAO could not evaluate cost progress". The report calls for the US Defense Secretary to demand that the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) "undertake ... 10 actions to strengthen its baselines, facilitate external and independent reviews of those baselines, ensure effective oversight of the [Ballistic Missile Defence System], and further improve transparency and accountability of its efforts".

NATO Watch director Ian Davis said, “the fact that the United States is expected to pay roughly $800 million between 2011 and 2013 on a ‘proof of concept’ for a multinational missile defence system, even though a top Army official has expressed doubt the effort would succeed, says all you need to know about accountability in missile defence”. Washington has provided $1.5 billion in funding for the multinational programme known as MEADS to date (with additional funding from Germany and Italy), although the Obama administration recently announced plans to zero fund the MEADS system after 2013. “Why can't the MDA kill projects that are clearly doomed?” added Dr Davis, “is it just poor management or blind faith within the Agency in the ultimate success of their mission? They need to appoint exit champions - managers with the ability to question the existing belief, demand hard data, on the viability of projects, and if necessary forcefully make the case for project termination”.

While the phased, adaptive approach is currently under US European Command’s authority, NATO agreed at the Lisbon Summit to establish command-and-control systems allowing the Alliance to take the lead in ballistic missile defence on the European continent. Russian cooperation on the project remains elusive (see NATO Watch News Brief, 31 January 2011), despite the appointment of Russia's envoy to NATO Dmitry Rogozin as chief missile defence negotiator with the Alliance. NATO insists there should be two independent systems that exchange information, while Russia favours a joint system with full-scale interoperability. Rogozin said recently "The third and the fourth phases of the proposed US missile shield in Europe bear a potential threat to Russia".