Accelerated missile defence system on collision course with ABM treaty

Said_PVO 18-07-2001 10:39

Accelerated missile defence system on collision course with ABM treaty

13 July 2001

By Henry Wilson, DSD staff reporter

The Pentagon revealed yesterday that plans to accelerate President George W.Bush's controversial missile defence plan, are likely to contravene the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty sooner rather than later. With two new missile sites set to be built in Alaska, the United States is determined to continue its research and development programme whilst providing an interim missile defence capability.

"We are on a collision course here," Deputy Defence Secretary Paul Wolfowitz told the Senate Armed Services Committee. "No one is pretending anything about the idea that what we're doing is consistent with that treaty. We've either got to withdraw from it, or replace it."

The White House is bent on providing a layered missile defence network employing launching options on land, sea and in the air. The schedule aims to have a basic defensive framework in position as early as 2005. In order for this to happen there seems no option but for the US to step up its research and development programmes. The next test is due to take place on Saturday.

As the ABM treaty prohibits testing of sea, air, space-based missile defences as well as mobile ground based systems, and limits the US to its two current testing sites - White Sands Missile range in New Mexico and Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands - it begs the question as to how long the US can remain within the limits of the pact.

Yet Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld denies that the US is close to breaking the constraints of the Treaty. "The United States is not going to violate the treaty. We're not. Full stop. Period." However, he added, "there is a provision you can withdraw". With meetings scheduled to take place between Presidents Bush and his opposite number Vladimir Putin, the White House will undoubtedly make every diplomatic attempt to either extricate itself from the Treaty or obtain Russian approval for continued testing. "We want to sit down with the Russians in a way that's rational, and professional, and we don't intend to violate the treaty," said Rumsfeld on Wednesday.

However, it is possible that the ABM Treaty could be violated as soon as construction commences at the Fort Greely, Alaska where tree clearing will begin next month. "As soon as the construction site becomes recognisably a strategic ABM interceptor launcher, it would violate the treaty," John Pike, director of, a defence think tank, said yesterday.

The controversial programme continues to come under fire from Congress not only because of the significance of the ABM Treaty but also with regard to the financial repercussions of a defensive policy that will require approximately $8 billion per year. Democrats on Capitol Hill have already expressed reservations over the Bush administration earmarking 57% of the 2002 defence budget for missile defence in preference to other military programmes. Furthermore, doubts continue to surface over the international repercussions of the United States pursuing this course, which some critics feel, could lead to a heightened arms race.

"Countries -- and this is the reason for the original ABM Treaty -- are going to respond," said Senator Carl Levin, Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. "We then have a new arms race on our hands, a new Cold War on our hands, and a greater proliferation threat on our hands."

Senior defence officials have revealed for the first time more specific details of their plans to bring the layered framework into being. Three windows of opportunity have been identified where offensive, inbound missiles could be destroyed: a boost phase, a mid-course phase, and a terminal phase. Furthermore, it was confirmed that the possibilities of using both the Aegis radar system and mounted lasers are being considered. The programme will develop in a series of two-year time-blocks.

"Two-year capability blocks for potentially developing capability or even procure capability is about the amount of time that people need to get comfortable with it, based on my experience. You want to have something available in the field for at least two years. Otherwise training and everything gets really hard to do," said a senior defence official. "So that we could, for instance, plan at an RDT&E level to have something available in the Block 2004, which includes 2004 to 2006."

The idea behind these two-year blocks seems more likely to be one of flexibility. Within the time frames the programme could develop in a fluid, flexible way which could alleviate some of the budgetary difficulties and possibly deflect diplomatic pressures as to how far the system has developed.