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Missile defense - back to the sixties

MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti military commentator Ilya Kramnik) - On par with NATO's expansion, deployment of a U.S. missile defense system has already become the most sensitive issue in Russia's relations with the West.

When discussing the political side of this issue, many forget about its military-technical and operational aspects, which override everything else.

U.S. missile defense has two directions. The first one is theatre missile defense, a system designed to protect the troops and bases of the United States and its allies against tactical missiles with a range of 700km-800km. The second direction is the formation of a global system of missile defense aimed at protecting the United States and its allies against medium-range and intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).

U.S. withdrawal from the 1972 Soviet-American ABM Treaty, which imposed a direct ban on national missile defense, and the start of its deployment, has caused the worst crisis in Russian-American relations since the collapse of the Soviet Union. The Russian military and diplomats have serious grounds for concern because this treaty was the main guarantee of nuclear missile parity.

Today, the U.S. global missile defense system consists of three echelons. The main one is based on the ground, and has the greatest potential for intercepting ICBMs. It includes two positioning areas for ground-based interceptors (GBIs) - in Alaska and California. These Boeing-produced missiles are targeted by early warning and acquisition radars. Such radars are located in Norway and Greenland.

In the next ten years, the ground-based echelon will be supplemented with a third positioning area in Europe. As the first two areas, it will include GBIs and early warning and acquisition radars. Today, these functions are combined in a single "firing" radar.

GBIs are the backbone of the ground-based echelon. PAC-3 and THAAD missile systems will also be used against ballistic targets. The latter has a cutting edge hit-to-kill capability and is primarily designed for intercepting medium and shorter-range missiles.

The second echelon of U.S. missile defense consists of sea-based SM-3 missiles deployed on NAVY cruisers and destroyers, equipped with the AEGIS information and control system. These missiles can intercept both medium-range missiles and ICBMs. They are on combat duty in the regions close to the territory of a potential enemy. Thus, a group of AEGIS ships is now based in Japan (needless to say, North Korea is the main U.S. enemy in the region).

The third echelon, detection satellites, supports the operations of the first two. Moreover, in the next 10-20 years, the United States may deploy combat missile interceptors in space, and develop serial pilotless aircraft and laser-equipped interceptors, which would patrol the skies near potential enemy territory, and destroy missiles during their launch.

Despite the high technical parameters of this hardware, the planned system of U.S. missile defense will be unable to protect U.S. territory from a massive strike by ballistic missiles equipped with multiple independently targeted re-entry vehicles (MIRVs). To resolve this task, the United States will use other branches of its armed forces.

The main condition for protecting U.S. territory against a massive nuclear strike is the destruction of the maximum number of carriers and warheads before the start. In this context, in the event of an armed conflict, emphasis will be put on the active use of general purpose forces (air force, navy and special units of all branches of the armed forces) against strategic enemy nuclear potential at an early stage.

Apart from missile bases, submarines, and bombers, early warning radars will be considered priority targets. Their destruction will make a pre-emptive strike much more effective - most of the missiles which could leave their silos as soon as the launch of missiles from U.S. territory is detected, would be destroyed.

In this case, retaliation will be carried out by a small number of missiles (several dozen), which the U.S. missile defense system would be able to intercept. Single warheads, which would reach their targets, would not be able to inflict unacceptable damage. This is the main task of the missile defense system - to prevent "unacceptable damage" and "assured destruction." These two factors were the main deterrent to a new world war for several decades - since the Soviet Union developed ICBMs.

If a potential U.S. enemy wants to ward off such a scenario, its only option would be to launch a pre-emptive strike itself, while destroying the missile defense systems. Thus, missile defense can take the world back to the 1960s, when war was seen as an exchange of major nuclear strikes.

Moreover, other nuclear powers are bound to take part in such a conflict. Today's warheads are much more precise and have a smaller yield than in the sixties, and therefore humans could survive such an exchange, but living under the permanent threat of nuclear war is very uncomfortable.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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