The Russian military employs high-precision missiles to destroy targets even when they are located far behind enemy lines. The Kalibr missiles are a set of Russian variants that consists of the 3M54, 3M14K, and Kalibr-M, and export versions, the Klub-S, Klub-N, Klub-T, and Klub-A. These missiles devastated not only Ukrainian military positions but also infrastructure after the strike on the Crimean Bridge. The Western countries are partly addressing the manufacturing and destruction of these expensive ballistic missiles through a mix of sanctions, air defence systems, and Ukrainian counterattacks. The deployment of Iranian Shahed-136 drones has exacerbated the problem since they have already destroyed a significant number of western air defence systems in Ukraine.
A NATO air defence shield
In a speech delivered on August 29 at Charles University in Prague, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz declared that Berlin would not only spend “massively” on an air defence system but also encourage a number of European countries to join. He mentioned the Scandinavian nations, the Netherlands, Poland, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia as possible partners for the initiative.
“A jointly built air defence system in Europe would not only be cheaper and more effective than if each of us built our own air defence. […] It would be a security gain for all of Europe and an excellent example of what we mean when we talk about strengthening the European pillar of NATO,” Mr. Scholz then explained.
Anti-missile capabilities already exist in Europe, such as the SAMP/T “Mamba” jointly developed by France and Italy, the German project IRIS-T SLM systems by Diehl Defence, the Arrow-3 system developed with American support by Israel and US Patriot. In the past, Berlin had abandoned the MEADS programme [Multinational Extended Air Defense System] developed by MBDA (Germany and Italy) and Lockheed Martin.
The German government used all necessary measures to persuade numerous NATO allies to join their proposal. In fact, on October 13, Germany and fifteen other nations signed a statement of intent to create a European air and anti-missile defence system by jointly acquiring the required capabilities.
This project, dubbed “European Sky Shield” (European anti-aircraft shield), brings together Germany, the United Kingdom, Slovakia, Norway, Latvia, Estonia, Hungary, Bulgaria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Romania, and Slovenia, in addition to other nations. Also included is Finland, which signed the NATO admission procedure.
“This commitment is even more crucial today, as we witness Russia’s ruthless and indiscriminate missile attacks in Ukraine, killing civilians and destroying critical infrastructure. In this context, I warmly welcome Germany’s leadership in the launch of the European Sky Shield initiative”, said Mircea Geoană, Deputy Secretary General of NATO.
“The new means, fully interoperable and perfectly integrated into NATO’s air and anti-missile defence, would considerably strengthen our ability to defend the Alliance against all air and anti-missile threats…
Through this initiative, we assume our common responsibility for security in Europe by pooling our resources,” argued Christine Lambrecht, German Defense Minister. “We will work quickly on the first joint projects; the joint purchase of Patriot units is one of them, as is the modern IRIS-T system,” she added. As for the Arrow 3, while she praised its merits on September 16, no decision has been made yet to acquire the system.
“We have already spoken with Israel and the United States, and it is no secret that the Arrow 3 is certainly a system that could fill the gap in our capabilities,” Ms. Lambrecht told the Reuters agency.
Given that the Arrow 3 system was created with the assistance of Boeing and funded up to 80 per cent [about $2.2 billion] by the United States, Washington is reluctant to approve a potential sale to Berlin. Especially when American business, in this instance Lockheed-Martin, supplies THAAD, a competitor system.
Anyway, said Ms. Lambrecht, “no decision has been made yet, but I think the Arrow 3 would be […] a very good system. […] We must fill these gaps quickly; we live in dangerous and threatening times”.
Notably, in Germany’s neighbourhood, Poland, Denmark, and Sweden, who are both members of the European Union and NATO (or in the process of becoming one), have not joined this initiative. The same as France, where one can assume that it is the only country to believe in the “Franco-German partnership.” Also on the sidelines are “Latin” nations such as Italy, Spain, and Portugal.
Russia has problems with such air shields
At the 2010 Lisbon Summit, NATO resolved to build a Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD) capability designed to intercept and destroy ballistic missiles in order to safeguard the people and territories of European NATO countries.
NATO leaders have often claimed that the BMD is not aimed against Russia and have urged Russia to collaborate. Russian authorities indicated they would resist NATO’s BMD deployment, even via punitive means. In 2011, then-President Medvedev promised to deploy offensive weapons in Russia’s south and west, including short-range Iskander missiles in Kaliningrad, the Russian Baltic exclave. He also vowed to disrupt BMD assets and enhance Russian ICBM capability to breach the European BMD.
In addition, Russia would withdraw from the 2010 START pact and cease all disarmament and weapons control efforts. A Russian commander warned of the possibility of a preemptive attack on NATO BMD. Russia has already built new ICBMs to counter NATO’s BMD.
The usefulness of the European Sky Shield
Neither the European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA) missile defence system proposed in the past nor the current systems can fully intercept ballistic and hypersonic missiles fielded by Russia. The Arrow 3 system is the only system that can intercept Intermediate Range Ballistic missiles (IRBM), and it is unlikely the US will allow their sale to NATO. The Patriot missile system and THAAD system are only partially effective against ballistic missiles, as seen in previous years. The US is yet to develop a system that can intercept hypersonic missiles.
The European Sky Shield system is old wine in a new bottle. The shield will start a new phase of an arms race in the region.