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U.S. Begins Fielding Missile Interceptor Planned for Basing in Europe

The United States has begun fielding a new missile interceptor that is planned in the short term to be deployed in Romania and the Mediterranean.

The U.S. Navy is now deploying the Standard Missile 3 Block 1B interceptor, which is designed to destroy short- and medium-range ballistic missiles, producer Raytheon Co. announced in a Wednesday press release.

"The SM-3 Block 1B's completion of initial operational testing last year set the stage for a rapid deployment to theater," Raytheon Missile Systems President Taylor Lawrence said in provided comments. "The SM-3's highly successful test performance gives combatant commanders around the world the confidence they need to counter the growing ballistic missile threat."

But the future of the second-generation interceptor includes some uncertainty. The Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency recently revealed to Inside Defense that it had decided to postpone for one year plans to seek congressional approval for a multiyear production deal with Raytheon. The decision came after the agency determined it cannot yet show a reliable funding stream for the Block 1B missile, a sustained military need or a stable design.

A recent report by Congress' internal auditor recommended delaying full production until it is determined whether changes to the missile interceptor's design are warranted, following an intercept attempt last year in which a launched Block 1B failed to perform.

The Block 1B missile is slated for deployment on four Aegis-equipped U.S. missile destroyers home-ported in Rota, Spain, and beginning in 2015 at a site currently under construction in Romania.

The planned fieldings form the second phase of the Obama administration's "phased adaptive approach" for European missile defense.

The final phase of the plan will involve fielding an even more-advanced SM-3 interceptor in Poland in the 2018-2020 timeframe.

The antimissile systems will be incorporated into an evolving NATO ballistic-missile shield that has been portrayed as defending against a possible missile attack from the Middle East. More recently, though, some Eastern European alliance members have suggested the system could become a means of deterring a newly militarily resurgent Russia.

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