WARSAW — Poland and Romania are leading Eastern European efforts to boost allied air and anti-missile defense capabilities. The two countries have been closely cooperating with NATO and are set to host US-made interceptors on their soil largely as a response to Russia’s military intervention in neighboring Ukraine.
Meanwhile, local analysts said that while Poland has accelerated efforts to enhance its missile defense capability following Russia’s annexation of Crimea, Warsaw is far from acquiring sufficient capacities in this field.
“The decision to purchase an air and anti-missile defense system should result from a comprehensive national defense strategy, and a risk assessment process focused on potential threats and the countries they might originate from,” said Łukasz Kister, an independent security analyst who cooperates with the Jagiellonian Institute, a Warsaw-based think tank.
“Russia is currently making efforts to upgrade its missile capabilities in Kaliningrad, but Poland could obtain Patriot missiles not earlier than in 2022,” Kister said.
In 2013, Russian newspaper Izvestia quoted an unnamed senior Russian Defense Ministry official as saying that the Russian military had deployed Iskander-M tactical ballistic missiles to Kaliningrad Oblast, a Russian exclave that borders Poland and Lithuania.
With Moscow reportedly upgrading its long-range strike capacity so close to the Polish border, Warsaw in response aims to improve its missile defense capabilities as part of the country’s ongoing 139 billion zloty (US $36 billion) 2013-2022 military modernization program.
Negotiating a Patriot Deal
In April, the Polish Ministry of Defense said it had chosen Raytheon’s Patriot over the Aster 30 interceptor manufactured by the consortium of MBDA and Thales. The procurement is being negotiated as an inter-governmental agreement, according to the Defense Ministry.
Warsaw plans to acquire two batteries within the next three years and eight batteries from 2018 to 2025. In addition, Poland is carrying out two separate procurements to acquire short-range missile systems.
“To ensure a temporary capacity in the field of air and anti-missile defense, there is a plan to acquire two [Patriot] batteries within three years following the signing of the deal,” said Col. Jacek Sonta, the spokesperson for the Polish Ministry of Defense.
In total, the acquisitions are estimated to be worth some 26.6 billion zloty, according to the information obtained by local business daily Rzeczpospolita.
Hosting Aegis Ashore
Meanwhile, both Poland and Romania are set to host elements of the Aegis Ashore program, the land-based component of the Aegis ballistic missile defense (BMD) system.
“The land-based system is designed to be removable to support worldwide deployment. In addition to Aegis BMD at sea, Aegis Ashore is part of Phased Adaptive Approach (PAA) Phases II and III,” according to the US Missile Defense Agency's website.
Aegis Ashore is to be deployed in Poland in 2018 as part of the PAA Phase III. This installed capability will use Aegis BMD 5.1 and SM-3 Block IB and IIA to support defense of northern Europe, the Missile Defense Agency said.
In Romania, Aegis Ashore will be deployed this year as part of the Phased Adaptive Approach (PAA) Phase I, using Aegis BMD 5.0 CU (capability upgrade) and SM-3 Block IB to provide ballistic missile coverage for southern Europe. The Romanian government has decided to host elements of the Aegis Ashore program at the air base in Deveselu in southwestern Romania. Construction work was launched in 2013 and the facility will become operational this year.
The Kremlin has accused NATO of hostile intentions. But Romanian Foreign Minister Bogdan Aurescu said that the project is "defensive, as it is designed to defend national and European soil."
Moreover, he said, the Romanian government sees the missile facility as a safeguard against potential Russian aggression.
The resulting "long-term presence of the US in Romania will guarantee that Romania will not be transferred into a different zone of influence," Aurescu said Aug. 2, as quoted by local news agency Mediafax.
Meanwhile, according to Kister, Eastern European countries should aim to improve regional cooperation with other allies interested in improving their air defense capabilities. These include the three Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, whose governments are discussing establishment of a joint midrange air defense system.
Latvia’s top military chief, Lt. Gen. Raimonds Graube, also recently announced that the Latvian military plans to acquire Stinger anti-aircraft missiles from the US to boost the country's air defenses.
“Poland should work closely with the Baltic states, Germany and the Scandinavian countries, because only merging the region’s air defense capacities will ensure a reliable and efficient system capable of protecting these countries’ air spaces,” Kister said. “Potential threats could originate from Kaliningrad, Belarus, central Russia, but also from the eastern parts of Ukraine, which are currently controlled by Russia-backed insurgents. As a result, a missile intended to hit Warsaw could be detected over Lithuanian soil.”