Not so SMART

Last week Spain agreed to provide a base for American ships with advanced anti-missile systems on board to take part in NATO’s Active Layered Theatre Ballistic Missile Defence (or ALTBMD) system. Similar agreements to set up the necessary infrastructure were recently concluded with Romania, Poland and Turkey.

The US-led gradual built-up of a layered missile defence system (Obama’s “Phased Adaptive Approach”) for NATO and its allies has long been a source of tension between Russia and the US/NATO . Russia suspects the missile shield is not only to counter a potential Iranian threat – the official version of NATO – but also against Russia’s ballistic missile arsenal. And it’s not just Iran or Russia: it’s about ‘full spectrum dominance’ – the US strategy to have full military control of land, sea, air, space and information.
Arguments against the NATO anti-missile umbrella are that the system is extremely costly, technically weak, but most importantly: potentially destabilising and likely to result in a much wider arms race of countries building up both (nuclear) missile systems and missile defences.
Along those lines Russia is now working on an initiative similar to NATO’s, courting former Soviet republics to join a Russia-led missile shield. There’s even talk of a Russian-Chinese-Iranian initiative. According to Youssaf Butt, a nuclear physicist with the Federation of American Scientists, missile defence “will lead to more nuclear weapons and a more dangerous world.”

Industry’s interest in missile defence is huge. The United Arab Emirates for example has indicated its intention to obtain Lockheed Martin’s so-called THAAD system, an order potentially worth $7 billion.
Also in Europe expectations run high: ” Bremen-based OHB-System is seeking a partnership with “like-minded” countries to develop and deploy a ballistic missile (BM) early warning/tracking satellite constellation, dubbed Athena […]. In particular, OHB desires to partner with U.S. industry on the Athena project to tap into the “billions the USG spends on BM defense”, according to a leaked cable.

Raytheon is another major US company that depends on missile defence spending with its radar systems and SM-3 interceptor missiles. Recently the company stated that it aimed for Dutch and other European navies to buy the SM-3, though The Hague claims it is not considering that yet.

Instead, as part of NATO’s ALTBMD plans, the Dutch government recently announced buying upgrades for Thales Nederland’s SMART radars for its air defence frigates, indicating potential costs in the range of 100-250 million euro – despite major budget cuts hitting the ministry. Potential orders from other countries – possibly Spain, Germany, the UK and Italy – could multiply Thales Nederland’s SMART order book.

Not really smart, because contributing to further tension between Russia and NATO.

[FS, 10 Oct 2011]

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