Gates: Missile interceptors to help protect European allies

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said on Thursday at a Pentagon press briefing that the United States would initially deploy ships equipped with the Aegis combat system and missile interceptors to help defend European allies and U.S. forces against threats from Iran and others.

Gates said that deploying ships in the near term with the Raytheon Co.-made Standard Missile-3, or SM-3, interceptors would provide the flexibility to move U.S. missile defense capabilities where they may be needed.

He also said that negotiations were under way with Poland and the Czech Republic about housing a land-based version of the SM-3 interceptors starting in 2015. Gates stressed that “all of the same opportunities for partnership” will continue with the two countries.

"We have now the opportunity to deploy new sensors and interceptors in northern and southern Europe that near term can provide missile defense coverage against more immediate threats from Iran or others," Gates said.

The Pentagon’s initial plan is to have three ships in and around the Mediterranean and the North Sea at all times. The Pentagon would also have the ability to send more ships to those areas if needed.

Gates told reporters that intelligence experts concluded that Iran was developing short- to medium-range missiles “more rapidly than previously projected.” Those kinds of missiles now pose a more near-term threat than intercontinental ballistic missiles — the basis for the Bush administration’s plans to base a missile defense shield in the Czech Republic and Poland. 

The Navy last year successfully shot down a falling and dangerous intelligence satellite with an SM-3 missile from the deck of a cruiser equipped with the Aegis combat system.