Feeds

US: Missile shield 'deactivated' until Iran tools up

Chill, Vladimir, we won't switch it on. Promise

Intelligent flash storage arrays

US defence secretary Robert Gates, seeking to allay Russian concerns, has suggested that European elements of the planned American missile shield might be built but not "activated" unless a threat from Iran developed.

Ongoing US efforts may in future produce a somewhat functional system of layered defences against ballistic missiles - even intercontinental ones capable of hitting the USA from rogue states such as Iran or North Korea.

The part of the system which (at least ostensibly) has Vladimir Putin's back-up is the so-called Mid-Course Ground-Based Interceptor. This is the only thing which can touch intercontinental warheads as they soar through space, after boost and prior to re-entry. The Pentagon has claimed successful tests in recent years, but hasn't yet introduced complications such as decoys and countermeasures to its trials.

The space interceptors and accompanying tracking radars need to be based somewhere not too far from the flight path of hostile warheads. In the case of any future Iranian weapon aimed at the US, this means putting at least some of the kit in Eastern Europe - specifically in the Czech Republic and Poland.

Moves to site ten interceptors and a radar in these places have provoked a storm of protest and belligerence from Vladimir Putin's Kremlin, amid allegations that America seeks - right now - to build a shield capable of knocking back a strike by Russia's strategic-rocket forces.

This is basically rubbish. The US cannot mount boost-phase attacks on Russian rockets, which is the only (possibly) cost-effective way of picking off multiple-warhead ICBMs. It can't defend very much of its home territory against plunging warheads, either. Mid-course space intercept is horrifyingly expensive - each interceptor is itself a biggish triple-stage rocket, not much cheaper than an ICBM - and it would have to eliminate not just thousands of warheads flying through space, but perhaps tens of thousands of decoys too.

Even if the US could emplace interceptors carrying huge numbers of working, effective kill-vehicles in Eastern Europe, and could find some way of picking Russian warheads out of their cloud of accompanying chaff and decoys, Putin or his successors could still rip the heart out of the USA using missile submarines shooting from unknown locations. (It is true, lurking Russian subs have often been shadowed unawares by US and British forces, but it would be far from impossible for Russia to raise its game here - certainly in the timeframe of a real US space shield.)

The real Kremlin concern is almost certainly the expansion of US/Western influence into Moscow's client-state/buffer zone, and associated undermining of Russian prestige and clout. It may not really be so much the Czech and Polish bases that are causing problems as other US demands; for instance that Kosovo's independence from Serbia be recognised, or that Russia stop selling advanced weaponry to Iran. The disproportionate missile-shield anger may be just Russia seeking to acquire/manufacture a new bargaining chip to be swapped in other negotiations.

Hence yesterday's public US offer, intended to offer a face-saving route for Russia and also - perhaps - to somewhat reduce the value of the chip.

"We would consider tying together the activation of the sites in Poland and the Czech Republic with definitive proof of the threat, in other words, Iranian missile testing and so on," Mr Gates reportedly said.

This does seem fairly meaningless, to be honest - roughly equivalent to saying the radars will be mostly switched off until the US says different.

Even so, there are signs that Russia may be up for anything it can present as a US concession - or perhaps that other quieter deals have been reached on other matters. After Mr Gates' remarks yesterday, the Guardian quotes an unnamed Russian official as saying:

"We believe that the outcome of the talks is promising. We think a number of ideas the Americans raised in Moscow merit careful consideration. For example, we believe there is a need for a joint discussion of the Iranian missile threat."

Watch this space... ®

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk

More from The Register

next story
GRAV WAVE DRAMA: 'Big Bang echo' may have been grit on the scanner – boffins
Exit Planet Dust on faster-than-light expansion of universe
SpaceX Dragon cargo truck flies 3D printer to ISS: Clawdown in 3, 2...
Craft berths at space station with supplies, experiments, toys
That glass of water you just drank? It was OLDER than the SUN
One MEELLION years older. Some of it anyway
NASA rover Curiosity drills HOLE in MARS 'GOLF COURSE'
Joins 'traffic light' and perfect stony sphere on the Red Planet
Mine Bitcoins with PENCIL and PAPER
Forget Sudoku, crunch SHA-256 algos
Big dinosaur wowed females with its ENORMOUS HOOTER
That's right, Doris, I've got biggest snout in the prehistoric world
Japanese volcano eruption reportedly leaves 31 people presumed dead
Hopes fade of finding survivors on Mount Ontake
Canberra drone team dances a samba in Outback Challenge
CSIRO's 'missing bushwalker' found and watered
prev story

Whitepapers

A strategic approach to identity relationship management
ForgeRock commissioned Forrester to evaluate companies’ IAM practices and requirements when it comes to customer-facing scenarios versus employee-facing ones.
Storage capacity and performance optimization at Mizuno USA
Mizuno USA turn to Tegile storage technology to solve both their SAN and backup issues.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Beginner's guide to SSL certificates
De-mystify the technology involved and give you the information you need to make the best decision when considering your online security options.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.