Panetta: Spain to host US ships for NATO's anti-Iran missile shield

"With four Aegis ships at Rota, [NATO] is significantly boosting combined naval capabilities in the Mediterranean and enhancing our ability to ensure the security of this vital region," Panetta said at NATO headquarters in Brussels. "This relocation of assets takes place as part of the United States's ongoing effort to better position forces and defensive capabilities in coordination with our European allies and partners."

The major mission that will be assigned to the American ships will be to track and potentially target missiles fired at Europe and deployed U.S. troops by rouge states like Iran.

The Obama administration, after taking office, scrapped a plan fashioned by the George W. Bush administration to install missile interceptors in Poland, opting instead to lean more heavily on sea-based radars and interceptors.

"These ships will ... support NATO's critical efforts to build effective missile defense," Panetta said. "Alongside important agreements that were recently concluded with Romania, Poland and Turkey, Spain's decision represents a critical step in implementing the European Phased Adaptive Approach."


The four ships also will perform other missions and participate in military exercises in the Mediterranean region, and give the heads of U.S. Central and African commands access to the vessels if an emergency takes place.