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Panel: Aegis Ashore Could Be Helpful In Pacific, Could Address Russian Air Threats

Romanian Aegis Ashore site. U.S. Missile Defense Agency Photo

Aegis Ashore could become a model for missile defense against an aggressive North Korea in Japan, Guam and Hawaii, as well as in Europe to counter an Iranian threat, because it is adaptable and capable of carrying mixed load, a defense security expert said Wednesday.

Thomas Karako, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said Aegis Ashore “provides layered defense in a box,” much like a ship’s Aegis Combat System.

At the CSIS forum in Washington, D.C., retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Harold Moulton hailed Aegis Ashore as “leading missile defense globally.” When the second Aegis Ashore site, in Poland, becomes operational it will not only provide significant deterrence for all of Europe, but it “will be done in a persistent manner, on the watch all the time.” In comparison, he noted, a ship providing missile defense could be pulled off station for any number of reasons.

Karako said Aegis Ashore is already operational and providing regional ballistic missile defense from Iran in Romania, and the second site in Poland could be effectively teamed with other air and low-tier missile defense capabilities such as Patriot to address a different kind of threat, including aircraft and cruise missiles coming from Russia. He noted Romania and Poland already are looking at buying Patriot. The United States is considering sending a Patriot battery later this year for an exercise with Lithuania.

He noted, though, that “the Iran problem is distinct from the Russia problem.”

Frank Rose, a former assistant secretary of state, said, “Iran remains absolutely committed to its ballistic missile program,” which was excluded from the agreement ending its nuclear weapons program. He added, “even conventional armed missiles can have strategic consequences,” as they did in Desert Storm when Iraqi Scuds were fired at Israeli targets.

The idea was to provoke Israeli retaliation and splinter the international coalition trying to liberate Kuwait. In response, the United States, the Netherlands and other nations deployed Patriot batteries to defend against Iraqi missile attacks.

Many times during the event, speakers such as Maciej Kowalski, a research fellow at the Casimir Pulaski Foundation in Warsaw, stressed that Aegis Ashore is not directed against Russia. “It is not directed in the direction that Poland regards as its major security threat,” referring to Moscow. The system is to protect major cities in Europe from missiles fired from the Middle East.

Aegis Ashore defenses “address short- and middle-range threats from the Middle East,” Rose said.

Before the panel discussion at the think tank, George Cristian Maior, Romanian ambassador to the United States, dismissed the Kremlin’s claim that Aegis Ashore violates the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty. For example, Maior said, the interceptors are non-nuclear and the system “does not seek to undermine Russia’s nuclear capability.”

“These aspects have been made clear to Russia many times,” he added, noting the Kremlin ended discussions with NATO over a variety of security issues in 2013. Aegis Ashore “is entirely a defensive endeavor.”

His country and its allies and partners are living with “continued ballistic threat” from states such as Iran and North Korea, as well as non-state actors like the Islamic State, as missile technology improves and proliferates.

When asked whether Romanian political leaders and the public support the program, he said that “various political parties regardless of the political color of the government approve.” Likewise, 80 percent of the public support NATO, with ballistic missile defense being a key alliance program.