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General To Recommend US Missile Defense Sites In Europe Soon

The US already has a missile defense system based in Fort Greely, Alaska (pictured).
by Jim Mannion
Huntsville AL (AFP) Aug 15, 2006
The head of the US missile defense agency said Tuesday he expects to make recommendations in a matter of months on where to position interceptor missiles and radar in Europe to best protect against the threat of Iranian missiles.

The European site would be the first expansion outside of the United States of an unproven US missile defense system that currently is aimed at thwarting a limited long-range missile attack by North Korea.

"We are facing a real threat," General Henry Obering said in a speech here. "It is one that is growing. It is one that I consider to be one of the preeminent threats we'll face in the 21st century."

Obering's comments came just weeks after North Korea test fired a long-range Taepo-dong 2 missile and six shorter range Nodong and Scud-type missiles.

Although the long-range missile test failed early in flight, the others were successful.

"And so we have to be careful that we don't jump to the wrong conclusions about it. Even though they had a failure in a long range test does not mean they don't have capability," Obering said.

"I don't take a lot of solace that they had a failed test. It shows their intent to get out their systems," he said.

Iran has tested a medium range Shahab-3 missile with a reported range of some 1,300 kilometers (800 miles) but not missiles capable of reaching the United States.

"From Iran, we know they've expressed their intent to develop more capable missiles," he told reporters after the speech to a conference on missile defense.

US officials said last month that Iranian officials were present at the North Korean test launches.

Obering said US teams have been inspecting possible sites in several European countries to base interceptor missiles and a forward-based radar, General Henry Obering told reporters here.

US teams visited sites in the Czech Republic last month. Poland also has been in close consultation with the Americans on a site on their soil.

Ideally, the site selected would protect both the United States and Europe against the threat of a long-range missile attack by Iran, Obering said.

But he said other factors such as soil conditions for missile silos, the infrastructure needed to support the installations, and the possible future sites for a future powerful X-band targeting radar have to be weighed.

"All that information is being gathered and should be available to us in the next several months," he said.

"We will have recommendations with respect to alternative sites," he said. "In terms of a decision, I don't know the decision timeline."

US plans call for stationing 10 interceptor missiles in Europe by 2011.

But Obering noted that funding for a European missile defense has not yet passed through Congress, where the House of Representatives voted to withhold funding for it this year.

Funding, he said, is "a major factor in terms of our timing, our scheduling of activity that may occur."

Meanwhile, it remains unclear whether the missile defense system will work under real world conditions.

President George W. Bush said it had a "reasonable chance" of shooting down a North Korean missile, but a recently retired Pentagon weapons evaluator put the odds at no better than five to one. Obering said he had higher confidence in the system.

The Missile Defense Agency will conduct its next flight test at the end of the month, he said. An interceptor missile will be launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California at a target missile fired from Alaska.

"It's about as close as we can come to an end-to-end complete operational rig-out of the system. And then we will have another flight against a target in the November, December timeframe that will be a planned intercept," he said.

The system has succeeded in only five of 10 attempts to intercept a mock warhead in space. The last intercept occurred in 2002, and that was followed by two failures.

jm/ddl

Source: Agence France-Presse

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