U.S. Announces EPAA Phase IV cancellation, increase in number of GMD national missile defense interceptors from 30 to 44 (March 15, 2013)

At a Pentagon press conference today, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced that the planned deployment of the high-speed SM-3 Block IIB interceptor to Poland (and the corresponding 4th phase of European Phased Adaptive Approach) has been cancelled. The transcript of Hagel’s prepared statement only states that the Block IIB programmed was being restructured, but the discussion in the following press conference makes it clear that the deployment plan has been cancelled:

In response to a question at the press conference, James Miller, the Undersecretary of Defense of Policy said (my transcription from C-SPAN video):
“The prior plan had four phases. The third phase involved the deployment of interceptors in Poland. And we will continue phases one through three. In the fourth phase in the previous plan we would have added some additional — an additional type of interceptors –the so called SM-3 IIB would have been added to the mix in Poland. We no longer intend to add them to the mix but will have the same number of deployed interceptors in Poland that will provide coverage for all of NATO Europe.”

In the prior plan, Block IIA interceptors would have been deployed in Poland as part of Phase III of the EPAA and then in Phase IV some or all of these would have been replaced by Block IIB interceptors. Whether the Block IIB development program is completely dead is unclear. This is a very significant development given that the Block IIB was the single greatest source of Russian objections to U.S. missile defense activities. Although there are certainly also good technical and economic reasons for cancelling the Block IIB, it will thus inevitably be portrayed as to be a major concession to Russia. Whether it will be actually be enough to satisfy the Russians remains to be seen, as many Russian statements have also objected to the unlimited deployment of the high-speed (although not as fast) Block IIA interceptor.

As was clearly the goal of the press conference, most media attention focused on the comparatively minor announcement that the number of deployed GBI interceptors in the U.S Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system covering the United States would be increased to 44 from the current 30. This involves deploying 14 additional GBI interceptors into 14 already existing silos (although in some cases, these silos need extensive refurbishing – see my post of March 28, 2012 for details) by the end of 2017. The planned number of interceptors was already at 44 when Obama took office, but his administration quickly cut this back to 30, citing a lack of a threat. Since then the possibility of restoring the number of interceptors to 44 has frequently been portrayed by the Administration as a possible hedge against future changes in the threat.

The other two items that Secretary Hagel announced were that a second TPY-2 X-band radar would be deployed to Japan and that the Department of Defense was conducting an Environmental Impact Study for an potential additional GBI interceptor site (in the eastern U.S.). However, as was acknowledged in the press conference, neither was a new development: Secretary Panetta had previously announced the radar to Japan and Congress had already mandated environmental impact studies be done for at least two east coast sites (the location of which have not yet been announced).

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