Can American Anti-Missile Systems in Europe Intercept Russian Nuclear Missiles?

This article will explore the effectiveness and weaknesses of American anti-missile systems in Europe, with a focus on Aegis Ashore. We’ll assess how well Europe is protected against potential Russian nuclear attacks through careful analysis. 

Against the background of the Kremlin’s permanent threats regarding the possibility of using nuclear weapons to attack Ukraine, it is possible to mention that the US has deployed a high-echelon American anti-missile defense system in Europe since 2015.

These are two facilities called Aegis Ashore, one in Romania in Deveselu and the other in Poland in Redzikovo; both were supposed to receive the latest version of the Standard Missile – 3 (SM-3) special missile in 2020. And they are actually ground complexes that repeat this part of the Arleigh Burke-class Aegis missile destroyers.

The latter are also on combat duty in the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic. However, due to their remoteness, they can be taken out by brackets.

Therefore, on the question of whether this US anti-missile system in Europe will be able to intercept intercontinental ballistic nuclear missiles over Ukraine, it is possible to focus precisely on the issue of the capabilities of these two Aegis Ashore. Although the “Polish” complex is located 500 km from the border with Ukraine and 1000 km from Kyiv, and the “Romanian” complex is 380 km and 850 km, respectively, the answer will be – this is included in their known characteristics.

In 2015, it was revealed in a presentation by the head of the Missile Defense Agency of the US Department of Defense, Patrick O’Reilin, at the AUSA conference (unfortunately, it is available in rather poor quality, but sufficient).

Can American Anti-Missile Systems in Europe Intercept Russian Nuclear Missiles?
Aegis Ashore

Behind it, the nominal coverage of both Aegis Ashore not only covers Ukraine but also goes far into the borders of the Russian Federation. At the same time, it even exceeded the officially announced SM-3 range of 1,200 km. And although it seems that it is possible to conclude the consideration of the topic on this, it is not.

It is important that we are talking about the interception of intercontinental ballistic missiles, which, during flight already rise into space to a height of more than 1,000 km – many times higher than the height of the ISS orbit. We are talking about such missiles as “Topol,” its modernization “Yars,” R-36M2 “Voivoda” or modernized “Sarmat” and others.

Can American Anti-Missile Systems in Europe Intercept Russian Nuclear Missiles?
USS Arleigh Burke

In this situation, any launch of even one such missile, first of all, will be recorded almost immediately because this is the critically important element of nuclear deterrence with over-the-horizon radars and a network of satellites deals with. Secondly, they will try to shoot down such a missile as quickly as possible.

The longer intercontinental ballistic missiles fly, the more difficult it becomes to shoot them down because after the third stage is completed, the process of separating warheads and releasing false targets begins.

Can American Anti-Missile Systems in Europe Intercept Russian Nuclear Missiles?

That is why Aegis Ashore actually does not cover Ukraine but covers part of the position areas of the Russian intercontinental ballistic missiles of the 7th, 14th, 28th and 54th missile divisions armed with “Yars.” That is, they will try to shoot down any launched intercontinental missile from the Russian Federation as quickly as possible.

This, most likely, determines the maximum automation of Aegis Ashore’s work with minimal human involvement, whose reaction is insufficient when it comes to missile defense.

At the same time, the Russian Federation, in addition to intercontinental ballistic missiles, has tactical nuclear weapons located on the Iskander OTRK. To intercept them at such a range, the SM-3 will be helpless. However, the task of intercepting these missiles in the USA and many NATO countries is assigned to the Patriot PAC3.