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Center for Arms Control, Energy, and Environmental Studies at the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology

Vardo Radar: Unfriendly Act or Violation of the ABM Treaty?

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Updated October 15, 2001

US installation of NMD-capable radar at Vardo in Northern Norway, 40 miles from Russian border, was yet another move that provoked a strong negative Russian reaction

Missile tests observation geometry Locations of radars in Vardo and Shemya Island are ideal for collecting very precise data on Russian missile tests

American and Norwegian military claim that the primary purpose of this radar (code-named HAVE STARE) is to monitor space debris in Earth orbit. However, analysis by Russian and American experts shows that the certain principal use of this radar will be to collect detailed intelligence data on Russia's long-range ballistic missiles. The second radar of the same type is planned for Eareckson Air Station on Shemya Island, some 1500 miles southwest of Anchorage. Both the Vardo radar and the planned radar for Shemya Island, operating together, collect precision radar signature data on virtually every phase of Russian tests of missiles and decoys, within minutes of their launch from Northern sea, the Plesetsk test range (about 150 miles south of the White Sea), and Tatishchevo (Saratov Oblast on Volga river) to splashdown 4,000 miles away near Kamchatka. Of particular importance, HAVE STARE will be able to obtain precision data in mid-course the critical point at which warheads and decoys separate from the "bus." Previous US radars at Vardo and Shemya have lacked the ability to perform such measurements at X-band frequencies. Information gathered by these radars would be extremely important for the US NMD system significantly improving its capability to detect and discriminate Russian warheads and to track them on re-entry.
Vardo Radar

The move of HAVE STARE to Norway and its initial use to track missiles in national missile defense tests were first disclosed by Mr Inge Sellevag in the Norwegian newspaper Bergens Tidende. A series of articles published by Mr Sellevag was the cause of a major scandal in Norway that led to resignation of the Defense minister. The issue of HAVE STARE radar became widely known in Russia in February, 2000 after a series of publications in The New York Times, The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, Novyye Izvestiya (in Russian), and Nezavisimoye Voyennoye Obozreniye (in Russian).

However, Russia was slow with official reaction. Only in mid-April, 2000 Russian MFA released an official statement, which particularly said that "...the Have Stare radar is to monitor ballistic missile launches and, before having been moved to Norway from the US, was used in US strategic ABM tests. Under the 1972 ABM Treaty, the deployment of such a radar outside US territory is forbidden. Clearly, the Have Stare radar can be used in Norway, in particular, to support a US national ABM system, also banned by the ABM Treaty...". April 16, 2000 Russian Public TV ORT aired comments on the Vardo radar by Col. Gen. Vladimir Yakovlev, Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Strategic Rocket Forces and Vladimir Dvorkin, Head of the 4-th Scientific Research Institute of the Russian Ministry of Defense, on April 22 Krasnaya Zvezda ran an article on the subject.

Is the Vardo radar in violation of the 1972 ABM Treaty, or for the time being it's just an unfriendly act towards Russia? "...Installation of HAVE STARE in Norway can lead to violation of the ABM Treaty. At the same time, one should note that so far no data is available that would allow to conclude that HAVE STARE installation conflicts with provisions of the Treaty. However, the opposite conclusion -- that the radar installation complies with the Treaty -- can not be made as well," -- believes Pavel Podvig, an expert with our Center (in Russian).

In June, 2000 Norwegian intelligence agency admitted at last, that moving HAVE STARE to Vardo, US intended to use it as a basis for the missile defense radar technology.

The page will be updated along the course of events.

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