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U.S./Russia: Missile Expert Assesses Azerbaijan Radar Proposal

A U.S. missile interceptor test in Hawaii in 2005 (AFP) June 8, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin's offer jointly to operate a radar station in Azerbaijan to guard against missile attacks from rogue states has drawn a cautious response. RFE/RL correspondent Charles Recknagel asked Duncan Lennox, a missile expert with "Jane's Strategic Weapons Systems" yearbook in London, about the advantages and disadvantages of the proposal.

RFE/RL: A joint radar in Azerbaijan would be right on Iran's border -- far closer than the current U.S. proposed radar site in the Czech Republic. What are the advantages or disadvantages of that?

Duncan Lennox: If the radar is close to the launch country, then the advantage is that you will get earlier warning that a missile has been launched and that would enable you to take certain preparations.

"I believe the Russians offered several years ago to coordinate radar systems to defend all Europe, including, I guess, western Russia. This is not something that is absolutely new."

But, the missile would overfly the radar quite quickly, and if you wanted to use the radar to guide an interceptor toward that ballistic missile that had been launched, then you would like the radar placed farther away form the country, really very close to where the interceptors were located.

The problem is that if you have the radar too close to the launch point, the missile will overfly that radar and will then be going away from the radar when the interception is made. That is not good for guiding an interceptor to intercept a ballistic missile. You really want the radar behind or level with the interceptor's launch point if you want that radar to help the interceptor make the intercept with the missile.

RFE/RL: So, that means one still would need missiles and a radar stationed in Central Europe. In other words, the radar in Azerbaijan could only be an early-warning addition to -- but not a substitute for – the planned U.S. network. Why then, do you think Moscow made this offer?

Lennox: My guess is that they are simply saying why not use our capabilities as part of a single system. Why make it entirely American -- I guess that is what is behind it.

RFE/RL: Washington and its NATO partners have been interested before in putting early warning radars in the Caucasus. Have the Russians ever made a proposal like this before to Washington?

Lennox: I believe the Russians offered several years ago to coordinate radar systems to defend all Europe, including, I guess, western Russia. This is not something that is absolutely new. I believe the Russians are saying, "Look, why don't you talk to us first before deciding where to put things?" That is the sort of feeling I get from what is being said.

RFE/RL: Finally, are there any advantages to Russia itself in jointly operating such a radar with Washington? Does it add protection for Russia from missiles fired from Iran, for example?

Lennox: Russia has its own interceptor missiles around Moscow already, and so Russia is already protected from any missile attack. The anti-ballistic missile system around Moscow has been there for many, many years, for 30-plus years. It is still there; it is still operational; and has been upgraded.

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Iran: Missiles And More

Iran: Missiles And More

Iran tests its Shahab-3 medium-range missile in November 2006 (AFP)

HOW LONG A REACH? As the debate on missile defense sharpens, Tehran continues to develop its Shahab-3 missile, which is already capable of reaching some parts of Europe.... (more)


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