Friday, January 26, 2007

The Pentagon is moving rapidly to build new missile defenses in Poland and the Czech Republic to counter the threat posed by Iranian long-range missiles, the head of the Missile Defense Agency said yesterday.

“The immediate threat in terms of emerging threats that we see is obviously the Iranians, and they’re putting a lot of energy into that [long-range missile] program,” said Air Force Lt. Gen. Henry “Trey” Obering, the agency’s director.

The three-star general said plans call for deploying 10 long-range anti-missile interceptors in Poland along with a tracking radar in the nearby Czech Republic by 2011 or 2012.

“We want to have this in place by the 2011, 2012 time frame because we think the Iranians, for example, shortly thereafter will be able to have a long-range capability,” he said.

The Iranian long-range missile threat is emerging, and as a result “it’s prudent for us to be thinking about that now and to begin to build toward that so we’re in a position that we can do something about it in that time frame,” Gen. Obering said.

The Eastern European missile defense site will cost about $3.5 billion and is part of a global integrated missile defense designed to counter “rogue” nations’ missiles, including those from Iran and North Korea, he said.

The Polish interceptor base will be the third global long-range missile interceptor base and will be similar to the current base at Fort Greeley, Alaska, where 14 interceptors are deployed. A second U.S. missile defense base at California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base now has two interceptors. Both sites will have 24 or 25 by the end of the year.

Gen. Obering sought to calm Russian fears that the European-based interceptors will be capable of shooting down Russian long-range missiles. He said the interceptors pose no threat to Russian intercontinental ballistic missiles because they cannot intercept either the large numbers of Russian ICBMs, nor will they be capable of chasing them successfully from the Polish location.

Russia is opposing the Polish and Czech sites, and Moscow officials have threatened to take unspecified action to counter the interceptors.

Iran has no long-range missiles, but its Shahab-3 medium-range missiles, with ranges of 620 miles, are thought capable of reaching some parts of Europe.

Iran is working on Shahab-4, Shahab-5 and Shahab-6 missiles that have ranges from 1,240 miles to 4,154 miles, which also could be used as nonmilitary space launchers.

“We see what’s happening right now in Iran, we know that they have a very aggressive test program that they have demonstrated in public, and they have avowed themselves that they are going to obtain a space launch capability,” Gen. Obering said.

The magazine Aviation Week & Space Technology reported on its Web site last night that Iran was poised to take that very step: launching a satellite into space.

A recently assembled 30-ton ballistic missile turned space launcher “will liftoff soon” with an Iranian satellite, the magazine quoted Alaoddin Boroujerdi, chairman of the Iranian parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Commission, as saying during a speech to religious students and clerics in Qom.

Gen. Obering said that once Iran succeeds in building a space launch vehicle, “you have demonstrated all the basic building blocks for a long-range ICBM capability, in terms of staging, controlling a vehicle through the staging and burns.”

“All indications are they are working to be able to achieve that,” he said.

On China’s recent anti-satellite weapons test, Gen. Obering said it does not pose an immediate threat to the space-based elements of the U.S. missile defense system. But in the long term it could pose a threat, he said.

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