Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Europe faces a growing threat of ballistic missile attack from rogue states such as Iran and North Korea and needs missile defenses to counter the threats, a NATO report says.

“The study concludes that there is a present and growing threat of long-range missile attack on NATO territory and it is timely to examine ways and means of addressing that threat,” said Marshall Billingslea, NATO assistant secretary-general for defense investment.

Mr. Billingslea said the assessment is the result of a four-year study ordered by NATO heads of state at the Prague summit in 2002 and represents a significant step forward in providing defenses for the continent.

The 10,000-page report, which is mostly classified, was produced by a consortium of defense contractors led by Science Applications International Corp., based in McLean, Va.

The report examines missile defenses to protect population centers, military forces and NATO member territory from all types of ballistic missiles. It includes proposals for effectively intercepting enemy missiles before takeoff, in early and midflight and as they near ground targets.

The report’s key conclusions are:

• The threat of long-range missile attack on NATO territory is growing.

• Territorial missile defense is technically feasible and can provide protection from a full spectrum of missile threats.

• The current NATO missile defense program — the Active Layered Theater Ballistic Missile Defense — cannot protect all of its population centers and territory.

• Defenses that can hit enemy missiles in midcourse at very high altitude or in space are needed, but only a small number of interceptor sites are needed.

• The system will need multiple sensor systems to track and target enemy missiles, including ground-based and satellite systems.

• Proposed variations on types of missile defenses will allow NATO to adjust the degree of protection it desires from the defenses.

“It is now up to NATO nations to decide on the desirability of such a defense,” Mr. Billingslea said.

Some nations, including France and Germany, are opposed to the shield.

Pentagon officials said the report concludes that the threat of missile attack from Iran’s force of medium-range Shahab-3 missiles is growing, as is the threat from other states linked to international terrorism, such as North Korea and Syria. Pyongyang has long-range Taepo-Dong 2 missiles with ranges of 2,000 miles to 3,700 miles that can reach Europe, and Syria has modified Scuds with ranges of up to 500 miles, U.S. officials said.

The report did not focus on the threat of missile attack from established missile states such as Russia or China, the officials said.

The Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency is planning to deploy a third interceptor site in Europe, possibly in Poland, Romania or Britain.

The site would be part of the U.S. long-range missile defense system, which currently has missile interceptors deployed in Alaska and California that can knock out a missile fired from North Korea or China.

A European site would help defend against an Iranian missile attack. U.S. officials think Iran is developing an extended-range Shahab-3, which will have a range of up to 1,200 miles. The current Shahab-3 has an estimated range of 800 miles.

A political debate on the deployment options is expected in the next several years.

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