“This is a tremendous milestone and an historic moment,” said Riki Ellison, president and founder of the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance (MDAA), which is based in Alexandria. Va.
“If you look at this in the broader international context with 26 NATO nations now supporting this system, it is a very Reaganesque move, but it is no longer a unilateral U.S. position since we now have more of the international community on board,” Ellison said.
Ellison, a former National Football League player, supports the multi-layered approach to missile defense embraced by the Bush administration, and which now includes ground- and sea-based systems.
Plans call for 10 U.S. ground-based interceptors (GBIs) to be installed in Poland as part of the European Site Initiative where they will operate in conjunction with a radar system in the Czech Republic. The missile interceptors will be placed in the Redzikovo Polish military base close to the Baltic Sea in the northern part of the country.
The GBIs are similar to the defensive missiles already deployed at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California and at Fort Greely in Alaska.
(A GBI is made of boosters and an "exo-atmospheric kill vehicle" (EKV) that operates with sensors and ground-based technology to zero-in on a targeted missile. The 152 pound EKVs, which look like fat rockets, are designed to collide with incoming ballistic missiles in outer space.)
With ballistic missile technology becoming more available to rogue nations and possibly even non-state actors, the need for international cooperation between free people is becoming more apparent, Ellison said.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers stationed in Europe will begin construction in the next 12-18 months in Poland, with the first deployed defensive missile to be on alert in 2012, and the remaining defensive missiles to be on full alert by 2015, according to the MDAA.
“These were challenging negotiations between the U.S. and Poland,” Ellison said. “But everyone is a winner here.”
In exchange for accepting the missile interceptors, Poland receives a fuller strategic American partnership that will include the permanent presence of U.S. personnel to operate the missile defense site. Poland will also have access to a U.S. Patriot missile battery on a rotational basis.
The Patriot battery includes five launchers, Patriot missiles, and the U.S. Army soldiers that man the battery for short-range ballistic missile defense protection of NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
Russia’s aggression toward Georgia over the last two weeks figured prominently in cementing the accord between America and Poland, Ellison said.
Russia has fired over two dozen SS-21 ballistic short-range missiles into Georgia over the last few days, integrating ballistic missile strikes with conventional military forces, according to an MDAA press release.
The SS-21 is a road-mobile, solid fuel, single-stage ballistic missile, which is maneuverable in flight and carries a high-explosive warhead weighing up to 1,060 lbs. It has a range of 43 miles, according to the MDAA.
“These missiles have been used by the Russians tactically for psychological and military targets as the Georgians do not have the capability to defend against or defeat ballistic missiles,” Ellison said.
“This outward military aggression with the use of ballistic missiles from Russia on a former U.S.S.R. country sends a very serious message to all former members of the Soviet bloc,” he added.
The missile defense assets planned for the Czech Republic and Poland will bolster defenses not just for Southern Europe but also for the eastern United States, Ellison said.
Looking ahead, he sees Turkey as a potential platform for additional missile defense assets that could be used to protect parts of Europe that are not covered under the current plans such as Greece and Romania.