CAPITOL HILL: The top American general in Europe said today the potential deployment of intermediate-range ballistic missiles “dramatically complicates an enemy’s task” in the region, without explicitly calling for the deployment of new US missiles in Europe.
The death of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty has opened up the development of the once-banned capability in the US, while Washington and its European allies have long accused Russia of violating the tenets of the 1987 pact between the US and then-Soviet Union.
Air Force Gen. Tod Wolters told the Senate Armed Services Committee that Russia has in recent years “developed new strategic platforms” — notably the Skyfall nuclear cruise missile, which killed seven Russian scientists in an accident last year — “and abrogated its responsibilities under the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe, all at the expense of strategic stability.”
While Wolters didn’t call for more missiles, he did bring up a previous request for two more Aegis destroyers to add to the four already stationed in Rota, Spain, to act as a missile defense lawyer for the continent.
The four ships have been homeported in Rota for five years now, and the US has spent money to build out the port facilities in Rota to accommodate two more ships.
“Those two additional ships would allow us the opportunity to improve our ability to get indications and warnings’ ‘ of incoming missiles from the East or emanating from Iran, which has three missile variants capable of reaching into Europe.
The ships – USS Donald Cook, USS Ross, USS Porter and USS Carney — are set to cycle out of Rota by 2022, replaced by more modern variants. The four have been some of the busiest in the fleet over the past several years. The Ross moved into the Black Sea Monday, part of a regular American presence in the waterway that has drawn significant Russian interest. In 2014, the Cook was buzzed by Russian fighters in the waterway, and again in 2016. The Porter and Ross would later launch 60 Tomahawk missiles into Syria in retaliation for a chemical weapons strike against forces loyal to Bashar al Assad in 2017.
It’s not clear what ships would move in to replace the four, or if the Pentagon and the Navy are seriously considering adding two more destroyers to Rota. Any addition of hulls would be a difficult and expensive ask as Pentagon leadership insists it wants to move assets to the Pacific region, and operations and shipbuilding budgets are expected to be flat in the coming years.
Europe’s missile defense shield is very much a work in progress, with one Aegis Ashore installation up and running in Romania, while a second in Poland is over budget, and behind schedule.
The completion of the US-funded missile defense site won’t be until 2022, four years later than originally planned, and will cost the US an additional $96 million Missile Defense Agency director Vice Adm. Jon Hill, told reporters recently.
The general said those cuts came out of airfield improvements in Eastern Europe, prepositioned stockpiles for fuel and ammunition, family housing and school repair, and other projects needed by his forces to operate on the continent. He said the $771 million pulled from the European Deterrence Initiative and $550 million pulled from his military construction budget have blunted the “campaign momentum” his command had achieved.
The $1.3 billion was half of the $3.6 billion the Trump administration took from military construction budgets in fiscal 2019. Earlier this month, the administration raided the Pentagon budget for another $3.8 billion to pay for the wall, this time yanking money for a planned amphibious ship for the Navy, F-35s, and National Guard modernization accounts.
The money for projects in Europe, “we hope will reappear one day,” Wolters optimistically told the Senators.