Cover: The United States' European Phased Adaptive Approach Missile Defense System

The United States' European Phased Adaptive Approach Missile Defense System

Defending Against Iranian Missile Threats Without Diluting the Russian Deterrent

Published Feb 13, 2015

by Jaganath Sankaran

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Research Questions

  1. Does the modified European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA) missile defense system preserve its purpose of defending against Iranian missile threats?
  2. Does the modified EPAA missile defense system pose a threat to Russia's nuclear deterrent?

The United States developed the European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA) missile defense system to defend against a variety of current and future Iranian missile threats. Russia has expressed dissatisfaction with the system, protesting that it presented a significant threat to Russia's nuclear deterrent. U.S. officials have repeatedly stated that the EPAA does not pose a threat to Russia's missile forces, arguing that the system is designed for ballistic missile threats from outside the Euro-Atlantic area and can neither negate nor undermine Russia's strategic deterrent capabilities. Nevertheless, in 2013, the Obama administration canceled Phase 4 of the system. This report demonstrates that the restructured EPAA system is able to defend against a range of current and future Iranian missile threats and does not pose a threat to Russian intercontinental ballistic missiles. Canceling Phase 4 of the EPAA system has opened a window for the United States and Russia to come together on additional bilateral nuclear arms reduction measures and missile defense cooperation.

Key Findings

The Restructured EPAA Can Defend Against Current and Future Iranian Missile Threats

  • Within the limits imposed by the assumptions made in the report, the restructured EPAA missile defense system will be able to handle both present and future Iranian missiles under different conditions of plausible time delays.
  • Based on simulations, EPAA interceptors are able to kinematically reach Iranian missiles originating from Tabriz, Iran, and targeting Incirlik Air Base and Izmir Air Base in Turkey. These cases are based on interceptors originating from ships in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea and from Deveselu, Romania.
  • Based on simulations, EPAA interceptors are able to kinematically reach Iranian missiles originating from Tabriz, Iran, and targeting U.S. bases or major cities in Italy, Germany, the United Kingdom, and Spain. These cases are based on interceptors originating from Deveselu, Romania, and Redzikowo, Poland, and from ships in the Western Mediterranean Sea.

The Restructured EPAA Does Not Pose a Threat to Russia's Nuclear Deterrent

  • The interceptors in Deveselu, Romania, will not be able to kinematically reach Russian intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).
  • The interceptors in Redzikowo also do not possess any capability against Russian ICBMs. Even under an unrealistic and ideal condition of zero time delay, the most powerful interceptor deployed at Redzikowo under the restructured EPAA plan, the SM-3 IIA, will be able to intercept ICBMs from only two Russian sites, Kozelsk and Tatishchevo, heading toward Washington, D.C. However, if the ICBMs from either of those sites were heading to San Francisco on the West Coast of the United States, then the SM-3 IIA interceptors have no potential to intercept.
  • Aegis ships located in the North Sea and the Barents Sea equipped with SM-3 IIA missiles will be able to intercept Russian ICBMs only under an unrealistic zero time delay. The velocities needed for such interceptors under realistic time delays to reach Russian ICBMs launched from a number of sites inside Russia are higher than the maximum 4.5 km/s attainable by the SM-3 IIA interceptors under the restructured EPAA system.


  • It might be useful to reassure Russia about the future evolution of U.S. missile defense systems. Giving Russia access to interceptor data, such as burnout velocity, is one prominent suggestion.
  • The United States could bolster the offer by emphasizing the possibility of developing a joint U.S.-Russian data exchange center focused on monitoring missile launches. It might help demonstrate to Russia the limitations of current U.S. early-warning and missile tracking systems against Russian ICBMs.

This research was conducted within the International Security and Defense Policy Center of the RAND National Defense Research Institute, a federally funded research and development center sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, the Unified Combatant Commands, the Navy, the Marine Corps, the defense agencies, and the defense Intelligence Community.

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