Options for Deploying Missile Defense in Europe

February 27, 2009

As part of ongoing efforts to protect the United States and its allies from attack by ballistic missiles, the U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA) is working to deploy a missile defense system in Europe to "defend allies and deployed forces in Europe from limited Iranian long-range threats and expand protection of [the] U.S. homeland. As proposed, the system would be in the field by 2013 and would include interceptor missiles in silos to be built in Poland, a tracking radar in the Czech Republic, and another radar at an unspecified location near Iran.

CBO's study of this system, released today,compares the potential cost and performance of MDAs proposed European system with the cost and performance of three other options for deploying missile defenses in Europe:

  • Standard missile interceptors located on U.S. Navy Aegis ballistic missile defenseships operating at three locations around Europe, supported by two transportable radars;
  • Ground-based standard missile interceptors operating from mobile launchers located at two existing U.S. bases, supported by two transportable radars; and
  • Ground-based kinetic energy interceptors (a new high-acceleration interceptor under development at MDA), also operating from mobile launchers located at two existing U.S. bases andsupported by two transportable radars.

CBO developed these alternatives using components that are already being planned rather than entirely new systems. Like MDAs proposal, the alternatives are all midcourse-phase defense systems (they would intercept an enemy missile after its rocket booster had burned out and the missile was coasting on a ballistic trajectory above the atmosphere).(Note for the uninitiated: the report hasan introduction to ballistic missiles-- you can find it in Appendix A.)

CBO comparedMDA's proposed deployment and the alternativesfor the defense that they provide to Europe,the additional defense they would provide to the U.S.relative to existing system, their costs, and when the alternatives could be available. Using those four criteria, CBO found thefollowing:

  • Defense of Europe. All of the alternatives CBO considered would provide defense of most of Europe roughly equivalent to the defense provided by MDAs proposal against most types of ballistic missiles that Iran is thought to have developed or could develop in the future. Because the alternatives CBO considered would locate interceptors closer to Iran than MDAs planned system, they would generally provide more extensive defense of southeastern Europe than would MDAs proposal. Moreover, because they would be composed of mobile or transportable components, deploying the alternative systems would not require building permanent facilitiesincluding missile silosat European sites.
  • Extended defense of the United States. A second goal of MDAs proposed European system is to give the United States an extra layer of defense against potential Iranian intercontinental ballistic missiles. CBOs analysis indicates that by 2012 systems already in place at two bases in the United States would protect more than 99 percent of the U.S. population from this threat. MDAs proposed European system would extend defensive coverage to the other 1 percent of the U.S. population. It would also provide redundant defense from a third interceptor site for all of the continental United States,giving system operators more flexibility bycreating an opportunity to launch a second interceptor from the United States, if necessary. None of the alternatives considered by CBO provide as much additional defense of the United States.
  • Costs. For roughly the same cost as MDAs European systema total of about $9 billion to $14 billion over 20 yearsthe United States could deploy either ofthe ground-based alternatives. The ship-based alternativewould cost almost twice as much as MDAs proposala total of about $18 billion to $26 billion over 20 yearslargely because CBO assumed that the Navy would need to buy additional ships to operate it.
  • Availability. The alternatives that CBO examined might not be available as early as MDAs proposed European system.

Kudos to Michael Bennett of the National Security Division for the development of this report, and to Maureen Costantino, who prepared the many interesting and informative maps and figures.