Gulf BMD Deployments

Lots in the news today – let’s start in the Gulf:

US officials have let it be known that it now has Patriot batteries in four Gulf states – Kuwait, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar. US anti-missile ships are also being stationed in the Gulf.  All this comes as the impasse over Iran’s nuclear activities continues and amid efforts by the US and other Western countries to increase sanctions on Iran. (BBC)

The outreached hand has obviously been slapped away once too often.  Iran’s continued intransigence on the nuclear issue combined with its growing inventory of ballistic missiles poses an implicit threat to the region.  PAC-3 battery’s deployed to the four GCC states provide a tangible, visible presence on the ground with regional friends and partners.  BMD configured cruisers and destroyers, armed with SM-3s extend that reassurance with a measure of deterrence for the region with their ability to intercept longer range MRBMs in the Iranian inventory.

All of this falls into two of the four priority objectives outlined in the 2010 QDR, released today:

  • Prevail in Today’s Conflicts
  • Prevent and Deter Conflict
  • Prepare to defeat adversaries and succeed in a wide range of contingencies
  • Preserve and enhance the All-Volunteer Force

Still, there are some who think that such a response will only strengthen the hand of extremists in Iran, emboldening them to crack down even harder on dissidents in general and the Green revolution in particular.  The line of thought is that the hardliners believe that the absence of a viable alternative to the current rulers will prevent the West (and the US in particular) from effecting regime change as it did in Iraq.  To wit, having observed Saddam survive the West’s repulsion of Iraqi forces in Kuwait (and suffering substantial damage at home to boot), only to be overthrown later in OIF the lesson they took away was Saddam survived the first encounter because the West believed there was no viable alternative government to take his place.  Now, with a hardening of the US stance (ref: President Obama’s mention of growing consequences if Iran did not comply with UN resolutions) and apparent increase of forces in the region (“missiles are missiles and warships are warships whether their intent is defensive or not”) this might be the time to come down even harder, scattering those who would support Moussavi and thus insulate themselves from a US-led invasion.

Bit of a stretch, to be sure.  But then, the survival instinct is a dominant feature not only in nature, but in politics too – especially in regimes characterized by tyrannical rule.

In the meantime, the deployment of BMD ships to the Gulf also offers us the opportunity to look at the BMDR —

2010 Ballistic Missile Defense Review

The stated intent of the BMDR is to align U.S. missile defense posture with near-term regional missile threats, and sustain the ability to defend the homeland against limited long-range missile attack.  In essence, this formalizes the change in direction announced last September by the Obama Administration and categorized under the so-called Phased Adaptive Approach (PAA) for Europe.  The PAA (or EPAA as it is known in some circles) stepped away from a GBI system deployed in Europe (mid-course radar in the Czech Republic and 10 2-stage GBIs based in Poland) to one more focused on meeting the extant threat presented by MR- and IRBMs to our European friends and allies using tested and proven systems, like Aegis BMD.  That shift however, did not place the current BMDS providing protection to the homeland in a decommissioned state.  In fact, under the BMDR’s terms, that system can and will continue – with some provisos.

Supporting that change are six precepts that will serve to guide and direct US policy for development and deployment of missile defenses.  Michele Flournoy, undersecretary of defense for policy, today described those six major priorities  at a Pentagon news conference:

The first goes to the heart of defense and that is to defend the United States from a limited ballistic missile attack. The second is to defend against growing regional threats. A third priority is “to test new systems under realistic conditions before they’re deployed to ensure their effectiveness,” Flournoy said. The fourth priority is to develop new fiscally sustainable capabilities, while the fifth is to develop flexible capabilities that can adapt as threats evolve. Finally, the United States wants to lead expanded international cooperation on missile defense, she said.

“We believe this approach will provide reassurance to our allies that the United States will stand by our security commitments to them,” Flournoy said, “and will help to negate the coercive potential of regional actors attempting to limit U.S. influence and actions in key regions.”

It’s been said before on these pages that ballistic missiles have been a growth industry this past decade and the trend line has a positive slope to it.  Not only are numbers increasing, but so too are ranges and sophistication.  The old SCUDs of Gulf War I are rapidly being supplanted by solid propellant, mobile long-range missiles that have the payload and throw-weight for a variety of WMD, not least of which could be nuclear.  Kinetic kill missile defenses remain but one (albeit an important one) way to defeat that threat.  The BMDR looks to guide and direct efforts in that direction too as well as bringing others onboard in a a cooperative approach to defense.  According to Flournoy, Russia and China (the latter one of the more egregious proliferators of missile technologies) factored into the review with an eye towards engaging them on a strategic level.

For now, color me skeptical on that point…

BMDR as of 26JAN10 0630_for Web