US soldiers stand in front of a Patriot missile battery at an army base in the northern Polish town of Morag (AFP Photo / Wojtek Rodwanki)

The United Stated is abandoning a key part of its Eastern European missile defense plan due to development problems and funding, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel has announced. The focus, he said, will be shifted to perceived threats from North Korea.

Interceptors in Poland and Romania, the deployment of which had
been the source of heavy criticism from Moscow, will be

Hagel told the press on Friday that the decision was made as
part of an overall restructuring of the country’s missile defense
plans, with an eye to stopping perceived threats from Iran and
North Korea.

The restructuring of the program will see $1 billion shifted to
add some 14 new interceptors to the 26 existing ones in Alaska
designed to counter potential North Korea missiles.

Washington claims that its decision was prompted by a need to
address North Korea’s faster-than-anticipated progress in nuclear
weapons development. The changes to the program will free up the
money to do so, Hagel said.

Phase One (2011) – Deployment of Aegis Ballistic Missile
Defense (BMD)-capable ships. In 2011 the USS Monterey, equipped
with proven SM-3 Block IA ballistic missile interceptors, was
deployed in the Mediterranean Sea. Turkey agreed to host a
land-based early warning radar. By 2012, the system was functional
according to the program’s timeline.

Phase Two (2015) – Deployment of a more capable
ground-based SM-3 Block IB ballistic missile interceptor in

Phase Three (2018) – Deployment of an additional advanced
ground-based SM-3 Block IIA ballistic missile interceptor in

Phase Four (2020) – Deployment of SM-3 Block IIB
ballistic missile interceptors. Washington canceled this phase on
March 15, 2013.

Explaining the rationale behind the initial plans for American
outposts in Poland and Romania, Hagel said, “the purpose was to
add to the protection of the US homeland already provided by our
current [ground-based interceptors] against missile threats from
the Middle East

But, he added, “The timeline for deploying this program had
been delayed to at least 2022 due to cuts in Congressional funding.
Meanwhile the threat matures. By shifting resources from this
lagging program … We will be able to add protection against
missiles from Iran sooner, also providing additional protection
against the North Korean threat

However, the Poland- and Romania-based interceptors were only
one component in a multifaceted missile defense program. While
Phase 4 – the now-scrapped interceptors – are off the table, phases
1 through 3 are set to continue as planned.

The missile deployments the United States are making in
phases 1 through 3 of the European Phased Adaptive approach
including sites in Poland and Romania will still be able to provide
coverage of all European NATO territory as planned by 2018
Hagel said.

Kremlin concerns

The Kremlin has argued that deployment of the systems in its
neighborhood was aimed at countering Russian missiles and
undermining its nuclear deterrent, though Washington said the
system was aimed at countering threats from Iran.

During initial negotiations with the George W. Bush
administration, Moscow offered Washington the use of an alternative
site in Azerbaijan in order to counter the Iranian threats evoked
by the US.

The missile shield also faced strong domestic opposition in
Poland and Romania, bringing the Obama administration in 2009 to
announce that it was canceling its plans for the project.

But a reformulated scheme was announced a month later in October
2009, showing plans to place smaller, mobile SM-3 ballistic
missile interceptors in the region by 2018.

Besides the placement of the interceptors, Russian officials
have also opposed a radar installation set to be based in the Czech
Republic. The base would enable US forces and their NATO partners
to monitor activities in European Russian airspace.

Hagel stressed that other components of American missile defense
plans in Europe would continue, and that Washington’s commitment in
Europe “remains ironclad,” but made no reference to Kremlin
objections to the program.

An anonymous senior State Department official told the AP that
while Poland and Romania were informed of the decision ahead of the
announcement, Russia was not.

AFP Photo / Wojtek Rodwanki

US drops key European missile defense component – RT
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