Russian radar in Azerbaijan is unacceptable, missile defense chief says

Posted in United States , Russia , Other | 19-Sep-07 | Author: Thom Shanker| Source: International Herald Tribune

L-R: Brigadier General Patrick O'Reilly, the deputy director of the US Missile Defence Agency, Lieutenant General Rayil Rzayev, the head of the Azerbaijani air force and Major General Alexander Yakushin, the deputy head of Russia's space forces, speak to reporters outside a Russian military base in the Azerbaijani town of Gabala.

WASHINGTON: American technical experts spent Tuesday inspecting a Russian radar station in Azerbaijan, but the director of the Pentagon's missile defense program emphatically stated that the Soviet-era early warning system was incapable of replacing an antimissile tracking radar proposed for the Czech Republic.

The director of the Missile Defense Agency, Lieutenant General Henry Obering, pressed the Kremlin to drop its objections to American proposals for 10 antimissile interceptors in Poland and for a radar in the Czech Republic. In a speech here, the general urged Moscow to link its radar in Azerbaijan to the American system in Central Europe to assist collective security.

The visit to Azerbaijan by a high-level delegation of missile experts was a response to a proposal from President Vladimir Putin of Russia that the United States drop plans for the new construction in Central Europe and to use instead the Russian radar in a system to defend against a future Iranian threat.

"We are taking the Russian proposal seriously with respect to cooperation," Obering said to members of the European Institute in Washington. "So we are going to learn as much as we can about this."

But he also said that "we do not anticipate, and cannot see, that what they are proposing can take the place for what we are proposing for Poland and the Czech Republic." Based on current assessments of the Russian system, it is "not capable of performing the functions" of the American radar proposed for the Czech Republic, he said.

Specifically, the Russian radar in Azerbaijan has a broad view of the horizon and is useful for early warning, Obering said. The American system proposed for the Czech Republic is designed to have a quite narrow view, but one that is very detailed and exact, as required for tracking and targeting individual missiles.

The Russian system, he said, would be useful as a way to alert the rest of the missile-defense system to an Iranian attack and to help focus it, but that system cannot replace the function of the American radar.

"I do not know if that will be acceptable to the Russians," Obering said.

Brigadier General Patrick O'Reilly, the missile agency's deputy director, who inspected the radar in Azerbaijan on Tuesday, issued a statement in which he described the trip as "a technical-level visit to give our experts an opportunity to get a tour of the facility and a briefing on its capabilities." There were no formal negotiations.

The visit was the first time American military officers had been allowed into the facility.

In addition to Russian objections to the plans, members of Congress have moved to cut the $310 million proposed this year for the European missile defense sites by $85 million in the current budget debates on Capitol Hill.

But Obering said that efforts to trim his budget did not represent "any show-stoppers." Construction of the two sites, he further noted, still required the official approval of the Polish and Czech governments.