NATO Parliamentary Assembly
HomeDOCUMENTSCommittee Reports2007 Annual Session179 STC 07 E bis - THE MISSILE DEFENCE DEBATE

179 STC 07 E bis - THE MISSILE DEFENCE DEBATE

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MICHAEL MATES (UNITED KINGDOM)
SPECIAL RAPPORTEUR

TABLE OF CONTENTS

I.  INTRODUCTION 

II.  WHAT HAS BEEN PROPOSED? 

III.  WHAT IS THE THREAT? 

IV.  LOCATION AND COVERAGE OF PROPOSED INTERCEPTORS 

V.  NATO AND MISSILE DEFENCE 

VI.  RUSSIA'S REACTION 

VII.  TECHNICAL LIMITATIONS OF THE PROPOSED SYSTEM 

VIII.  ALTERNATIVES TO THE PROPOSED SYSTEM 

IX.  COST CONSIDERATIONS 

X.  POLITICAL AND PUBLIC REACTIONS 

XI.  CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS 

XII.  ANNEX: BALLISTIC MISSILE DEFENCE SYSTEMS 

 

 

I. INTRODUCTION

1.  The United States is negotiating with Poland and the Czech Republic on the deployment of American missile defence (MD) assets on their territories to defend the United States against the threat of long-range ballistic missiles launched from the Middle East.  The system would also provide protection to much of Europe.  This potential deployment has sparked a high-profile debate about the feasibility and desirability of missile defences in Europe.  It has also faced strenuous objections from the Russian government. 

2.  The US missile defence plan does raise important questions.  To cite just a few, if all the NATO Allies are to enjoy the same degree of protection against missile attack, what should be done to protect those outside the United States' system, and who should do it?  What are the potential synergies between the "Third Site" and NATO's programme to protect its forces from missile attacks, and - if NATO decides to go ahead with it - a system to protect territory and population centres?  What are the "rules of engagement" for the "Third Site"?  American officials have consistently stated that the assets deployed would remain under American control, so how would decisions be made on intercepting long-range missiles aimed at European countries within the system's "footprint"? This special report summarizes the facts and issues at the heart of this political debate.


II. WHAT HAS BEEN PROPOSED?

3.  The United States is developing a multi-layered missile defence system to protect itself from ballistic missiles with different ranges.1 In order to counter short-range missiles, the US Patriot interceptors, mounted on mobile platforms, have already been in operation for two decades and proved their worth on the battlefield. The more recent sea-based Aegis and road-mobile THAAD systems are designed to provide the defence against medium-range missiles. The shield against short- and medium-range missiles usually covers specific objectives and limited areas (or theatres) and is therefore often referred to as Theatre Missile Defence (TMD).

4.   The US shield against long-range missiles (also known as Ground-based Midcourse Defence - GMD) is only partially installed: two sets of missile interceptors in Alaska and California are already operational, and are intended to defend against missiles launched from North Korea. Nevertheless, the US remains vulnerable to the potential long-range missile threat stemming from potential enemies in the Middle East. The proposed "Third Site" in Central Europe is intended to close this gap.

5.  The systems being proposed are a radar site in the Brdy district near the village of Misov in the Czech Republic and a 275 hectare base for ten ground-based missile interceptors near Koszalin in Poland.  Construction could begin in 2008 and the system could be operational by 2011.  About 350 personnel would operate the facilities.

6.  The US Missile Defense Agency also intends to deploy a forward-based radar for early warning and detection. This mobile radar will be placed closer to the threat from Iran. Other elements of the overall system already exist outside the United States: early warning radars in Thule, Greenland, and Fylingdales, UK, were constructed during the Cold War to track any US-bound Soviet missiles, and are currently being upgraded. The US missile defence system also uses radars based high in space (in the Geosynchronous Earth Orbit, approximately 36,000 km above the earth), but these infrared satellites can only detect ballistic missiles in the boost phase when they emit large volumes of heat. Currently there are no alternatives to ground- or sea-based radars in order to track missiles in the midcourse of their flight, however, the US has plans to introduce a new generation of space-based radars, the Space-Based Infrared System (SBIRS), which will be able to track missiles even when they drop their boost rockets and cool down.

7.   The US missile defence is unique as it is the only system in the world that aims to intercept long-range missiles in the midcourse of their flight, i.e., in space. All other existing systems (Russian, Chinese, Israeli or European) can only target missiles that are already descending. The terminal-phase interception is not believed to be effective against intercontinental missiles that would be travelling at extremely high velocities.2 The US interceptors are also based on kinetic kill technology, aiming to destroy incoming missiles by physically colliding with them, instead of using explosive warheads.


III. WHAT IS THE THREAT?

8.  According to the US MDA there were about 100 non-US ballistic missile launches around the world in 2006 - twice that of the previous year. This trend reflects the determination of many countries to acquire ballistic missile capabilities. NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer recently declared that "there is absolutely a shared threat perception between the Allies. Allies all agree that there is a threat from ballistic missiles".

9.  The United States is mainly concerned about missile launches from Iran or North Korea, although neither has yet achieved confirmed long-range ballistic missile capabilities.  Iran currently possesses a medium-range missile (the Shahab-3) which could reach Turkey, Israel, and much of the Middle East as well as Afghanistan.  Reports suggest that Iran is developing more advanced Shahab missiles with longer ranges - which would pose a threat to Europe - and American intelligence estimates are that Iran could develop an intercontinental ballistic missile by 2015. Tehran has acknowledged that it is pursuing a space-launch capability, and while this capability is said to be for peaceful purposes, it could potentially deliver payloads over intercontinental ranges.
 

IV. LOCATION AND COVERAGE OF PROPOSED INTERCEPTORS

10.  In deciding where to locate interceptors, several key factors must be taken into account.  Most obviously, the interceptor must be within range of the expected path of the hostile missile.  For long-range missiles, the ground track is almost3 the "great circle", i.e., the shortest distance on the globe between the launch point and the target.  Early interception is also an advantage. As can be seen in Figure 1, the "cone of engagement" is narrower near the launch point.  However, it is clearly not possible to place interceptors very close to the launch area (in Turkey, for instance, as sometimes suggested), and there are technical challenges - such as very short warning times - in doing so. Placing interceptors in Turkey would imply that the US seeks to intercept Iranian missiles in the boost-phase of their flight, but such interception technology does not exist yet.

11.  Thus, there are clear technical reasons why the United States is seeking its proposed "Third Site" in Central Europe.  These considerations also explain why the United States is having discussions with the United Kingdom on potentially deploying interceptors there. However, according to Lieutenant General Henry Obering, head of the US MDA, deploying interceptors in the UK would cause an even more negative reaction from Moscow as these interceptors would have a theoretical capability to catch US-bound Russian ICBMs. Other countries, including Ukraine, have also expressed some interest in participating in the system. 

12.  Washington maintains that the system would not only protect the United States but also many of its European allies against long-range ballistic missile threats from "rogue countries" like Iran.  However, the proximity to the Middle East of some NATO allies in Southeast Europe means that they face a more immediate threat from shorter-range missiles.  Protecting these regions would require a system more like the Patriot terminal phase defence missile that was used to protect Israel from Iraqi Scud missiles during the first Gulf War.


V. NATO AND MISSILE DEFENCE

13.  NATO is conducting three missile-defence related activities.  The first is the development of the Active Layered Theatre Ballistic Missile Defence Programme (ALTBMD) to protect its deployed forces within or outside NATO territory, against short- and medium-range ballistic missiles (usually taken to mean with a range of up to 3,000km.)  This will be a NATO-funded command and control "backbone" which will integrate sensors and interceptors provided by member nations, such as American and multi-national systems of various capabilities. The ALTBMD is scheduled to become partly operational by 2010 (possibly protecting the NATO Response Force) and fully operational by 2016.

14.  The second NATO activity in missile defence is the follow-up to the Missile Defence Feasibility Study which examined options for protecting Alliance territory, forces and population centres against the full range of missile threats.  The study concluded missile defence of NATO territory is technically feasible "within the limitations and assumptions of the study". NATO Heads of State and Government at the Riga Summit in November 2006 took note of this conclusion and called for "continued work on the political and military implications of missile defence for the Alliance including an update on missile threat developments."

15.  The third area of activity is within the context of the NATO-Russia Council (NRC) where the TMD Ad-Hoc working Group is looking at interoperability, tactics and procedures to "create the conditions for NATO and Russia to conduct joint TMD operations."  The "Third Site" has also been discussed within the context of the NRC.

16.  Negotiations between the United States and Poland and the Czech Republic on the deployment of elements of the US Ground-Based Midcourse Defense system have been conducted strictly bilaterally, and not in the NATO context.  However, the issue has been discussed at NATO Headquarters through extensive ongoing consultations; this included briefings by senior US Defense Department officials and the head of the US Missile Defense Agency to the North Atlantic Council in April 2007.  It was also discussed during the meeting of NATO Foreign Ministers in Oslo on 26-27 April and the meeting of NATO Defence Ministers in Brussels, 14 June. It was agreed to assess by February 2008 the political and military implications for NATO of the planned US missile defence system elements in Europe. In particular, the assessment will focus on the possibility of "bolting" NATO's ALTBMD onto the US system.

17.  The United States has suggested that the long-range interceptors it plans to base in Europe could be complementary to NATO's efforts to counter shorter-range threats. NATO's ALTBMD could provide a shield for the South-Eastern European Allies, although the original purpose of ALTBMD was to protect deployed troops. The United States has also suggested that its systems in Europe would be able to link to NATO systems to ensure interoperability, although making clear that it would retain command and control over American assets.  After a special meeting of high-level representatives of NATO countries at NATO's Headquarters on 19 April 2007, NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer stated that "the unanimous view was that the principle of the indivisibility of security should apply. There is a shared desire that any US system should be complementary to any NATO missile defence system."


VI. RUSSIA'S REACTION

18.  The Russian Federation has expressed strong opposition to the proposed deployments of American missile interceptors in Europe, contending that this could have a negative impact upon the Russian nuclear deterrent and is another example of Russia's legitimate security concerns being ignored.  President Putin has expressed his view that the deployment would instigate a new arms race.  His decision to suspend compliance with the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty, while not explicitly linked to the proposed anti-missile deployment, is seen as a symptom of the growing atmosphere of mistrust on security issues.  General Nikolai Solovtsov, commander of Russia's strategic missile forces, has gone so far as to suggest that Russia could target the "Third Site" with nuclear missiles.  He also warned that Russia could withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty and begin commissioning new medium-range missiles. First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov raised the idea of deploying new missile weaponry in the Kaliningrad Region. The Russian Ambassador to Belarus Aleksandr Surikov was recently quoted as saying that Russia might consider deploying new nuclear facilities in Belarus in response to the US missile defence plan.

19.  Furthermore, Russian officials also state that they see no threat from Iran which would necessitate such defences. However, the recent offer by President Putin to use the Gabala radar station that Russia leases in Azerbaijan for the US's missile defence system might be indicating a certain U-turn in Russia's policy. With this offer, the Kremlin, in fact, acknowledged that the proposed missile defence shield makes sense. The offer, which reportedly caught the US administration off-guard, was taken into consideration, but American officials stated that the Gabala station should be treated as an addition to the "Third Site" rather than its replacement. The Gabala station is located too close to the Iranian border to provide tracking and guiding capability for the US midcourse defence system, not to mention the fact that the station would have to be completely refurbished. The station could, however, be used as an early warning facility.

20.  Russia does not oppose missile defence per se, as it maintains the two-tier A-135 missile defence system to protect Moscow from long- and medium-range missiles.  The system consists of up to 100 Gazelle (low-tier) and Gorgon (upper-tier) interceptors. Russia also has considerable mobile air defence systems, which provide protection against tactical ballistic missiles as well as cruise missiles and low-flying aircraft. The S-300 is broadly similar to the American Patriot and is also widely exported.  The newer S-400 is now entering service.

21.  The United States and NATO officials have sought to address Russian concerns by pointing out that the 10 proposed interceptors pose no threat to Russia's hundreds of Inter Continental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs), a point which Russian officials have sometimes conceded.  Furthermore, as well as the sheer numerical advantage, Russian ICBMs launched against the United States would go over the northern polar region, not Central Europe, as can be seen from Figure 2, a polar projection of the northern hemisphere. 

22.  American officials dismiss claims that the interceptors have potential offensive uses noting that they do not have explosive warheads - their targets are destroyed by the force of impact - and that their launch silos would be far too small to house offensive missiles. 

23.  The fears that the radar in the Czech Republic could be used to monitor Russian missile launches also appear to be baseless. The NATO PA delegation that visited the Czech Republic in June 2007 was informed that the US radar cannot pose any threat to Russia's security interests since it would not be rotating but fixed facing the Middle East, and not the Arctic area, where a hypothetical path of a US-bound ballistic missile would lie.

24.  Russian officials have been repeatedly briefed about United States missile defence plans, as well as NATO's missile defence work.  The United States has offered to co-operate with Russia on missile defence, and to allow Russian inspectors to visit sites in Alaska, California and Central Europe, but these offers have been refused.   Theatre Missile Defence is addressed, however, in the NRC.  In 2003, a study was launched to assess interoperability of Russian and NATO members' TMD and a TMD Command Post exercise was held in March 2004 in Colorado Springs, United States.


VII. TECHNICAL LIMITATIONS OF THE PROPOSED SYSTEM

25.  There is a debate about the effectiveness of the proposed missile defence system and the rigour of its testing programme.  The US MDA's head, Lt. Gen. Henry Obering, claims that 14 out of the last 15 tests have been successful, but some experts express concern that the test conditions were not realistic.  However, future tests will be conducted under more complex conditions.

26.  Another criticism is that cruise missiles, low-flying aircraft, or even a smuggled nuclear weapon could circumvent the system. 

27.  These same arguments have raged around missile defence for decades, and a comprehensive assessment is beyond the scope of this short paper, other than observing that despite the supposed simplicity of alternative means of delivery, countries still seek ever more capable ballistic missiles.

28.  One criticism can be placed in perspective however.  Concerns about debris raining down on Europe are exaggerated.  The interception would take place high above the atmosphere (at an altitude of more than 200 km) and most if not all the resulting debris would burn up as it re-entered the atmosphere.  Certainly, any damage would pale in comparison to that caused by a missile reaching its target.


VIII. ALTERNATIVES TO THE PROPOSED SYSTEM

29.  One of the frequently used arguments of the midcourse missile defence sceptics is that sea-based Aegis and road-mobile THAAD could provide a viable and less costly alternative. For example, Congresswoman Ellen Tauscher and some other American legislators suggest focusing on enhancement of the abovementioned systems. However, in his reply, MDA Director General Obering stated that Aegis and THAAD could not be effective against ICBMs unless very expensive modifications were made. Moreover, existing sensor systems of mobile systems would not provide adequate radar coverage for Europe. Aegis and especially THAAD systems could cover much smaller areas than midcourse defence system, hence the need for many additional mobile platforms: some 40 Aegis ships would be needed to protect Europe. According to MDA calculations, the improvement of interceptors and the deployment of additional platforms would come at a cost that is more than five times greater than to field the fixed "Third Site". However, some experts are not fully convinced by this statement and refer to upgrades that the Aegis system is already receiving.

30.  Another notable alternative is the Airborne Laser (ABL) programme. ABL, featuring a chemical oxygen iodine laser mounted on a modified Boeing 747-400F, is a unique project designed to intercept missiles in their boost-phase, just seconds after launch. It is still in research and development stage and has experienced serious technological and budgetary problems. The operational capability is expected to be achieved by 2009.

31.  The Pentagon also has plans to develop a space-based laser or space-based kinetic interceptors, but these plans have met strong opposition in the Congress due to political controversy surrounding the very idea of deploying weapons in space.


IX. COST CONSIDERATIONS

32.  The United States has spent US$110 billion on missile defence projects since the mid-80s and the current budget for the MDA, which is responsible for all US missile defence programmes, is about US$9 billion per year.  The cost of construction of the "Third Site" is estimated to be at least at US$3.5 billion.

33.  It is estimated that rendering the "Third Site" interoperable with a NATO theatre missile defence system would cost about US$1 billion spread over 20 years, i.e., approximately €50 million a year, to be shared by 26 nations. Were NATO to deploy its own comprehensive shield against missiles of all ranges, the cost would be approximately €20 billion.


X. POLITICAL AND PUBLIC REACTIONS

34.  The proposed deployments in the Czech Republic and Poland have aroused controversy between Alliance members.  While there is consensus on the nature of the threats posed by short-and medium range missiles, opinions are divided on the immediacy of a threat from longer-range systems.  There are also concerns about public reactions, the negative impact the project could have on relations with Russia, and even the prospect of sparking off a new arms race.

35.  The initial reaction of several Alliance leaders (for example German Chancellor Angela Merkel) was to suggest that the US plan should be discussed within NATO.  The US has obliged with briefings to the North Atlantic Council (NAC) while insisting, however, that it is a national programme. US officials have confirmed that the system could provide coverage of most of Europe against long-range missile threats originating in the Middle East.  As noted earlier, by no means all of "NATO-Europe" would be protected.  This has led the Secretary General to emphasize the principle of the indivisibility of security.  He has commented that although NATO will not interfere in the bilateral discussions, he intends to ensure that there are no "A grade" and "B grade" allies when it comes to security.

36.  Even within the countries that are directly involved - the United States, the Czech Republic and Poland - there are differing views on the political implications of the "Third Site". The Democratic majority in the US Congress expressed concerns that the Administration is moving forward with the plan on a bilateral basis and bypassing NATO. The American legislators also requested further explanations concerning the reliability of the system. In May 2007, the House Strategic Forces Subcommittee, led by Congresswoman Ellen Tauscher, voted to cut more than a half of the $310 million the administration requested for the "Third Site". The Senate Armed Services Committee also decided to cut funding by $85 million. The position of Congress may change, however, if the most acute concerns associated with the plan are addressed. The MDA hopes that funding may yet be restored before the end of the year.

37.  Czech and Polish politicians are also divided on this issue. The delegation of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly visited the Czech Republic on 27 June 2007 for a fact-finding mission and to discuss the views of the Czech government and parliamentary representatives on the missile defence plan. Unfortunately, the delegation did not have an opportunity to visit Poland before the preparation of this report. The NATO PA delegation gathered that the Czech government is determined to proceed with the plan, believing it will strengthen the country's security and reinvigorate transatlantic relations in general. However, the left wing opposition, which has as many seats in the parliament's lower chamber as the ruling coalition, is not convinced that the plan is justified and calls for a national referendum on this matter. Nevertheless, both sides agree that including the "Third Site" into a comprehensive NATO missile defence architecture would be a preferable and more acceptable solution to the Czech people. The NATO PA delegation also had the impression that the Czech government is generally supporting the 'NATO-isation' of the "Third Site", while the Polish side, for example, seems to favour the bilateral approach.

38.  Public opinion seems unconvinced.  Surveys show that the majority of Poles and Czechs currently oppose the construction of the "Third Site". Currently, approximately 60% of Czechs oppose the plan, but negative attitudes have been declining in recent months. The Czech legislators whom the NATO PA delegation met in June hoped that by the end of the year (when the US-Czech negotiations are expected to be concluded), the number of opponents would drop to less than 50%.

39.  The opposition from people living near the proposed locations of the "Third Site" is very vocal: for example, in a local referendum, and 71 of the 72 citizens of the village of Trokavec in the Czech Republic, which is being considered as a site for the radar facility, voted against the plan. The NATO PA delegation visited Trokavec and met the mayor Mr. Neoral. He said that the public needs more reliable information about the radar and its safety. The lack of such information gives ground for all kinds of myths and misconceptions. It remains to be seen how such considerations would affect debates in the parliaments of both countries, which will have to approve agreements on the basing of American interceptors and personnel.


XI. CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

40.  The Rapporteur wishes to emphasise the following:

- The proposed US missile defence system in Europe is undoubtedly designed to serve its declared purpose - to counter possible long-range ballistic missile threat from the Middle East. Central Europe is the most suitable location for the "Third Site".
- The system does not and cannot threaten Russia's deterrent. Russia's nervousness is baseless, and the announcements of withdrawal from some arms control regimes are regrettable.
- It is not confirmed that Iran has long-range missile capability at the moment, but the current dynamic and political uncertainty in the Middle East provide justification for precautionary measures, including missile defence.
- For geographical reasons, the "Third Site" could not provide coverage for the Allies in South-eastern Europe. For this region, a different kind of a shield-one that protects against short-and medium-range missiles - is needed.
- Ground-based missile defence is extremely costly and its effectiveness is not yet proved.
- The "Third Site" is a bilateral project, but it raises security concerns for all Allies. So far NATO has no plans to create anti-missile shield for population centres and territory. NATO's ALTBMD programme is designed to protect deployed troops.
- Public opinion in NATO countries is not convinced about the necessity for the "Third Site". Public support could increase if the plan had a NATO label.

41.  Bearing in mind these aspects, The Rapporteur believes that:

- Introducing the US missile defence system in Europe could increase Allied security and enhance immunity against possible blackmail from hostile Middle East countries.
- The plan provides an opportunity to strengthen transatlantic ties and keep the United States engaged in Europe. Thus, the plan provides a tool to revitalise the Alliance.
- NATO needs to be involved. NATO leaders have to decide, preferably in the Bucharest Summit in April 2008, on the future European ballistic missile defence architecture. Finding a way to integrate NATO efforts with the "Third Site" would be reasonable in terms of cost.
- A modus vivendi between NATO and the US has to be found with regard to command and control of missile defence assets. A 'dual-hatted' approach could be one solution.
- It is imperative that the South-eastern European Allies are protected against short- and medium-range missiles. The role of NATO's ALTBMD in this respect must be enhanced.
- Further studies are needed in order to assess the feasibility and cost of other options for anti-ICBM defence, such as sea-based Aegis systems or Airborne Laser. Space-based interceptor systems should not be on the table.
- The US and NATO need to strengthen missile defence co-operation and dialogue with Russian officials in order to ease the existing tension between Russia and the US and its Allies. It has to be clear, though, that Russia should not have a veto on this issue. It is critical to dissuade the Russian authorities from imprudent 'retaliatory' actions.
- People in NATO countries need to be provided with more information about the proposed system in order to meet existing concerns with regard to impact on health and the environment. Transparency is absolutely critical to win public support to the plan.

XII.
ANNEX: BALLISTIC MISSILE DEFENCE SYSTEMS

When discussing the feasibility of MD, one has to be aware that MD systems can be very different. Generally, these systems are classified according to the stage at which to intercept a hostile missile:

1. Boost-phase: For about five minutes after launch, a long-range missile is in the boost-phase.  Within these five minutes, and at an altitude of about 300km, its rocket engines burn out and are discarded after accelerating the missile's payload up to a speed of about seven km/second.  Advantages of the boost-phase interception include (i) nullifying the potential threat of a missile carrying multiple warheads, (ii) avoiding the problem of the enemy using decoys, and (iii) limiting the problem of debris to the territory of the attacker. Also, (iv) in the boost-phase, ballistic missiles are slower and more visible (using simple infra-red sensors, as the launch emits immense amounts of energy) and therefore easier to aim at and hit. Finally, (v) intercepting missiles do not even have to carry a warhead of their own, as the kinetic impact alone would be sufficient to destroy the offensive missile, which has a lot of explosive fuel on board at this stage.

The difficulty with boost-phase interception is the requirement to act at very short notice. It means that detection radars and interceptors need to be deployed in the vicinity of the potential attacker, and remain there constantly. Therefore, effective boost-phase MD is often associated with deploying military assets in space, which is a controversial issue. In addition, the boost-phase MD systems are still in Research & Development stage and face significant technological and budgetary challenges.

2. Midcourse-phase: After the boost-phase, the relatively small payload is in space and travels along a ballistic trajectory (like a thrown stone) at several km/second, reaching an altitude of about 1,200km before descending towards its target.  This phase lasts about 20 to 25 minutes.

The Midcourse constitutes the longest part of missile's trajectory, thus theoretically giving MD systems considerable time to intercept a long-range missile. In reality, however, midcourse interception is an extremely challenging task, because:

- missiles cool off as they enter outer space and thus are difficult to trace with traditional space-based heat sensors.
- the new generation of more sophisticated (and expensive) satellite sensors is better equipped to detect missiles, but these sensors can be deceived if an opponent uses decoys that have the same temperature characteristics as the real missile.
- ground-based radars are more effective both in detecting and identifying missiles, but they are limited in a way that they have to be deployed geographically close to opponent's territory due to the curvature of he Earth.
- in the beginning of the mid-course phase, missiles reach their maximum velocity and jettison their engines, thus becoming less vulnerable and explosive and making lasers and kinetic vehicles less effective. Interception with rockets carrying conventional or nuclear warheads would be more likely to succeed, but the United States is focusing on hit-to-kill technology.

Currently, the American Ground-Based Midcourse Defense system (GMD) and possibly sea-based Aegis are the only operational systems intended to intercept long-range missiles during this phase.

3. Terminal-phase: The warhead's final approach to its target is known as the terminal phase.  This lasts about two minutes and during the last minute the warhead re-enters the atmosphere.  Interceptors for use during this phase must be placed very close to the expected targets. Although interception during this phase is technologically less challenging than during earlier phases, it is only possible for interceptors to protect a small area.  Many systems are available (or soon will be) for defence at short ranges - typically tens of km's - and their intended targets would be the warheads of short-range (and rather slower) Scud-type missiles.  These include the European SAMP-T, the American PAC 3 (Patriot), the Russian S-300, and the Israeli Arrow 2. Protecting a large area would require an impractical number of such systems.

Another way of categorising MD systems is according to the objects they defend. In this regard, there are two types of MD:

- Territorial MD - designed to protect population centres and strategic areas. The US GMD system with interceptors in Alaska, California and, potentially, Poland, which seeks to protect all 50 states, is an example of Territorial MD. NATO is not currently developing such a system.
- Theatre MD (TMD) - designed to protect soldiers on expeditionary missions. TMD systems are often mobile and deployed in the vicinity of troops in the field. NATO's ALTBMD would pull together such systems to protect, for example, the NATO Response Force when deployed. 

 

1   In terms of ranges, the traditional classification of ballistic missiles is the following:
  -  Short-range ballistic missiles (SRBM) - up to 1,000 km
  -  Medium-range ballistic missiles (MRBM) - from 1,000 to 3,000 km
  -  Intermediate-range ballistic missiles (IRBM) - from 3,000 to 5,500 km
  -  Intercontinental-range ballistic missiles (ICRBM) - over 5,500 km
2   For more details on different MD systems, see the annex.
3   The ground track is not exactly the great circle route mainly because of the Earth's rotation.  The missile follows a ballistic trajectory with the aim point taking account of the Earth's rotation during the half hour or so that the missile is in flight.

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