National security adviser says Iran advancing in making medium-range missiles

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The program also will include more technical risk because the more advanced versions of the SM-3 are “paper missiles” at this point and have not been tested.

Also, using less-capable radar, including sensors on unmanned aerial vehicles, will not be capable of identifying multiple warhead missiles, he said.

Eric Edelman, who was undersecretary of defense for policy in the Bush administration and who oversaw the 2006 missile-defense plan, said the new intelligence is questionable.

The National Air and Space Intelligence Center’s missile report indicated that Iran could deploy a long-range missile by 2015 five years before advanced SM-3s would be in place to defend against it.

“President Obama reiterated that unless the assessment changed, we should move forward [with long-range interceptors],” Mr. Edelman said in an interview. “What has changed? It seems to me the administration needs to clarify (in an unclassified or classified setting) what has led to the different assessment.”

The new plan also is expected to be widely viewed as “a preemptive concession to the Russians” that could have negative repercussions throughout NATO and especially in Central Europe, as well as among allies in the Gulf and Northeast Asia, including the untested new government in Japan, Mr. Edelman said.

“It would seem unwise to announce this move just as we are about to ‘engage’ the Iranians” in talks, he added.

As for the Russians, Mr. Edelman, now with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment, said official statements from Moscow indicate that there may not be matching concessions from Russia.

However, news reports from Moscow said Friday that the Russian military will not go through with threats to deploy advanced short-range Iskander missiles in the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad, as threatened by Russian leader Vladimir Putin in response to the planned U.S. missile-defense site in Europe.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates on Saturday lashed out at critics of the new missile-defense plan and insisted it was not a concession to Russia. “I believe this is a very pragmatic proposal. I have found since taking this post that when it comes to missile defense, some hold a view bordering on theology that regards any change of plans or any cancellation of a program as abandonment or even breaking faith,” Mr. Gates, who served as defense secretary in the Bush administration, wrote in an opinion article for the New York Times, according to Reuters news agency.

Politically, the abandonment of the Europe site also set the stage for progress in reaching a new strategic arms agreement with Russia. Moscow vehemently opposed the European missile site as posing a threat to its strategic missile capability and had made canceling the program a precondition for arms talks.

The Bush administration then moved ahead with a limited missile-defense system of interceptors based at Fort Greeley, Alaska, and at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., accompanied by two other new systems: a Navy ship-based system deployed on Aegis battle-management-equipped warships and built on the SM-3, and a newer Army system called the Theater High-Altitude Area Defense.

Both the Aegis and THAAD are designed to hit the warheads from short- and medium-range missiles, like Iran’s Shahab-3.

Patriot anti-missile systems have been deployed by the United States and several allies for the past decade. The systems, however, were originally designed as anti-aircraft missile systems and were enhanced to provide limited capabilities against short-range missiles like the Scud.

The shift in missile-defense policy was signaled earlier this year when the Pentagon announced that it was cutting the number of planned long-range interceptors from 44 to 30 at the Alaska and California bases.

About the Author
Bill Gertz

Bill Gertz

Bill Gertz is a national security columnist for The Washington Times and senior editor at The Washington Free Beacon (www.freebeacon.com). He has been with The Times since 1985.

He is the author of six books, four of them national best-sellers. His latest book, “The Failure Factory,” on government bureaucracy and national security, was published in September 2008.

Mr. ...

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