A U.S. warship is readying to depart for Spain on Friday in accordance with NATO plans to strengthen ballistic-missile defenses in Europe.
The USS Donald Cook will travel to its new home port of Rota, Spain, as part of the Obama administration's "phased adaptive approach" for European missile defense. Three other Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers are to be deployed to Rota within the next two years, the Pentagon said in a press release.
"The U.S. has a historically strong partnership with Spain, and the strength of that relationship is exemplified today as the first of four U.S. Navy destroyers departs for Rota, Spain," Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said in provided comments. "Permanently forward-deploying four ships in Rota will enable us to be in the right place, not just at the right time, but all the time."
The other three destroyers tasked for fielding in Spain are the USS Ross, USS Porter and USS Carney. All of the ships are to be equipped with Aegis systems and Standard Missile 3 Block 1B interceptors designed to defeat short- and medium-range ballistic missile threats.
The United States is in the second of three planned phases for deploying antimissile assets in Europe. The initial stage, completed in 2012, involved the fielding of an AN/TPY-2 radar in Turkey and the standing up of a command-and-control center in Germany. The U.S. military next plans to deploy more-capable Standard Missile 3 interceptors in Romania in 2015 and in Poland in 2018.
The stated purpose of the NATO missile shield is to guard against potential attacks launched from the Middle East, though Russia is concerned there may be an ulterior motive that could effectively weaken its nuclear-deterrent force.
In a Thursday visit to Poland, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel met with the country's top foreign policy and defense leaders and promised to deploy SM-3 interceptors at a base near the Baltic Sea coast in Redzikowo.
"The United States is firmly committed to deploying a U.S. missile defense system to Poland," Hagel was quoted in a Pentagon press story as saying in Warsaw. "We look forward to this system coming online in 2018 as part of phase three of the European Phased Adaptive Approach."
Washington twice before disappointed Warsaw by going back on agreements to field interceptors in Poland. The first time was in 2009 when the Obama administration threw out a Bush-era plan to field 10 Ground Based Interceptors in the country. The second instance was in 2013 when the Pentagon canceled plans to develop and field in Redzikowo the Standard Missile 3 Block 2B, which was envisioned as having a limited capability to defeat strategic missiles.
Partly in response to those U.S. decisions, Poland is pursuing its own air defense system, which will be linked to the broader NATO shield but will have a focus on protecting against possible lower-altitude missile attacks. Russia has repeatedly threatened to field tactical Iskander ballistic missiles in its Kaliningrad exclave, which borders Polish territory, if its concerns about the NATO missile shield are not addressed.
Warsaw has outlined plans to spend as much as $8.4 billion to build its missile defense system and U.S. firms are eager to win some of those contracts.
"As Poland explores options for its own missile-defense capabilities, there is an unmistakable opportunity for us both to forge even closer cooperation in this area, leveraging cutting-edge technology and enhanced NATO capability," Hagel said.