Earlier today Iran tested an allegedly more advanced version of its solid-fueled Sejjil-2 medium range ballistic missile. The missile has a similar range to that of the liquid-fueled Shahab-3 (i.e. approximately 2,000-2,500 kilometers) and could reach targets in Israel, Turkey, and portions of southeastern Europe.
In the wake of today’s test, it’s worth recalling that the Bush administration’s plan to deploy ten long-range ground-based interceptors (GBIs) in Poland and an accompanying radar in the Czech Republic was not designed to deal with Iranian short- and medium-range ballistic missiles. Click here for a nice map, courtesy of the BBC, demonstrating the limitations of the GBI-based system.
In contrast, the Obama administration’s modified missile defense plan for Europe is specifically designed to counter the threats posed by Iranian short- and medium-range missiles such as the Sejiil-2. The new approach will rely on “scores” of SM-3 interceptors, at first based on Aegis ship destroyers, which will be capable of defending more of Europe than the Bush administration’s plan. And the initial pieces of the system are slated to be deployed by 2011, some six or seven years before the Polish and Czech sites would have been completed. As Vice-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. James Cartwright stated in a September 17 press conference announcing the decision:
We built the original system on the idea of a rogue-nation threat: three to five missiles that could come from either North Korea or Iran. The reality is, we’re dealing with hundreds of missiles in the [intermediate-] and medium-range capabilities…. What you can do with an SM-3 in affordability and in deployment and dispersal is substantially greater for larger numbers of missiles than what we have with a ground-based interceptor.
In sum, if you’re inclined to view the Sejjil-2 as a major threat, it’s tough to argue that the Obama administration’s decision to pursue a new missile defense architecture for Europe was the incorrect one.