Threat assessment to Europe prompts new U.S. missile defense plan
WASHINGTON – The U.S. intelligence community has determined that Iran could launch a major missile strike on Europe. Officials said Iran was building an arsenal designed to conduct long-range missile strikes on Western Europe. They said the arsenal Included both liquid- and solid-fuel intermediate- range ballistic missiles.
"It would more likely be a salvo kind of attack, where you would be dealing potentially with scores or even hundreds of missiles," Defense Secretary Robert Gates said.
In testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee on June 17, Gates said Iran was capable of launching hundreds of missiles toward Europe. He said the Iranian threat formed the basis of a new U.S. missile defense plan, called "Phased Adaptive Approach," for NATO allies.
"One of the elements of the intelligence that contributed to the decision on the phased adaptive array was the realization that if Iran were actually to launch a missile attack on Europe, it wouldn't be just one or two missiles or a handful," Gates said.
Under the plan, meant to be completed by 2020, the Pentagon would oversee the deployment of the SM-3 sea-based missile defense systems aboard Aegis-class cruisers in the Mediterranean Sea. NATO has already approved the plan.
"This would give us the ability to protect our troops, our bases, our facilities and our allies in Europe," Gates said. Officials said the U.S. intelligence community has assessed that Iran would reach the capability to strike anywhere in Europe by 2018. The assessment envisioned Iran tipping its intermediate- and long-range missiles with biological, chemical and nuclear warheads.
The defense secretary said North Korea also marked a major threat to Europe. He said the success of the missile programs of Pyongyang would encourage others to follow suit. Gates did not elaborate. "I think by 2020 we may well see it from other states, especially if we're unsuccessful in stopping Iran from building nuclear weapons," Gates said.