By Fred W. Baker III, American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama today announced he is restructuring plans for a missile defense system in Europe that provides greater flexibility and promises faster deployment of current technologies.
"This new approach will provide capabilities sooner, build on proven systems, and offer greater defenses against the threat of missile attack than the 2007 European missile defense program," Obama said.
The 2007 plan, put in place by the Bush Administration, called for fixed radars to be positioned in the Czech Republic, and 10 interceptor missiles in Poland.
U.S defense officials said the system would protect its allies in Europe and the United States against ballistic missile attacks launched from the Middle East, specifically Iran.
The new plan is based on recent intelligence reports that reassess Iran's weapons capabilities to show short-and medium-range ballistic missiles to be developing more rapidly than projected, and intercontinental ballistic missile capabilities developing much slower than estimated.
Under the new plan, the United States will begin building the missile defense system in a phased approach. First, by 2011, it will field its current radars and interceptors, such as the Navy's Aegis-equipped ships, with the Standard Missile 3 interceptor. The system has proven its capabilities in the past few years, specifically when it stopped a crippled reconnaissance satellite over the Pacific Ocean before it re-entered Earth's atmosphere in February 2008.
This puts in place a defense system in northern and southern Europe that can protect against the more immediate threats from Iran nearly seven years earlier than the plan for installing the ground-based interceptors in Poland, officials said.
The plan is to then build on the system, eventually installing some ground-based radars and interceptors, enlarging the defense system's range, and continuing to augment the system with sea-based systems that can position themselves according to the threat.
"To put it simply, our new missile defense architecture in Europe will provide stronger, smarter and swifter defenses of American forces and America's allies," Obama said. "It is more comprehensive than the previous program; it deploys capabilities that are proven and cost-effective; and it sustains and builds upon our commitment to protect the U.S. homeland against long-range ballistic missile threats; and it ensures and enhances the protection of all our NATO allies."
The new plan alleviates some concerns of Russian leaders, who strongly opposed the positioning of the ground-based interceptors and radar system so near its borders.
U.S. officials traveled several times to Moscow to discuss the system's intention with the Kremlin. The United States offered to allow Russia to have representatives at each site, if the host nation agreed, to provide technical monitoring of activities. The United States promised it would not make the sites operational until the Iranians had tested a missile that could reach most of Western Europe, including parts of Russia.
Still, defense officials said it is likely Russia will not fully embrace any U.S. plans for a missile defense system in Europe.
But, Obama said, as long as Iran continues its nuclear weapons program, the United States will continue to develop its missile defense capabilities in the region.
"Our clear and consistent focus has been the threat posed by Iran's ballistic missile program, and that continues to be our focus and the basis of the program that we're announcing today," the president said. "In confronting that threat, we welcome Russia's cooperation to bring its missile defense capabilities into a broader defense of our common strategic interests, even as ... we continue our shared efforts to end Iran's illicit nuclear program."