The US has been intensifying its missile defense activity to face the possible threat of an attack from Iran, according to congressional testimony.
The Pentagon is working on building a first-ever missile defense base in Europe and at the same time the administration is actively supporting upgrading of the Israeli Arrow anti-missile system.
According to a report in Defense News,
the US and Israel have increased their cooperation in recent months in order to deal with the threat of an Iranian missile attack.
The US Missile Defense Agency (MDA) also asked Congress for an extra $77 million for upgrading the Arrow system and developing the Arrow mark 4, which would have better interception capabilities than the existing Arrow systems. The Defense News
report also notes that Israel wants a further increase of $58 million for the same purpose.
In a mid-May hearing at the Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee, Lt. General Henry Obering, the director of the MDA, said that the United States has benefited technologically from its work with Israel and has incorporated some of the Arrow technologies into the American missile interception program. In the hearing, Senator Conrad Burns (R-Mont) said that subcommittee members are pleased with the Arrow's successes "especially in light of recent developments in Iran."
While Israel is considered to be covered by the anti-missile shield provided by the Arrow, the US is now focusing its efforts on protecting itself from a possible Iranian long-range missile attack. The existing missile defense systems were based on the concept that the major missile attack threat for the US is North Korea and thus are not located in convenient locations for intercepting missiles coming from the Middle East.
In the next months, the Pentagon is expected to make a decision on putting up an anti-missile site in Poland, which will be the first such site on European ground. American teams are holding talks in recent weeks with their counterparts from Poland in order to finalize the agreement this summer. Another possibility being examined is placing the missile base in the Czech Republic.
The American plan to build a missile defense base in Poland is intended to give the US a better chance to intercept Iranian missiles fired towards North America. An interceptor missile launched from a site in Europe would aim at the attack missile in an early stage of its course, while interceptors launched from the existing sites in Alaska and California - would be able to intercept an Iranian missile only later on in its course and would be less effective.
The missile defense system, named The Ground Based Midcourse Defense Program, can be operational in Poland by 2011 and would provide the US with more coverage for its anti-missile shield. Yet the system still faces many obstacles and has not had a successful test since 2002. It is now described as having "emergency capability", meaning it can be used if needed, even though it has not passed all the tests.
The decision to place an American anti-missile base in Poland was received positively by the Polish government, which is becoming US's major ally on military issues. Poland sends troops to Iraq and also cooperated in the war in Afghanistan. US sources have estimated that Poland is interested in having an anti-missile base on its ground both for the deterrence it provides from any possible future Russian aggression and for the jobs it would create in Poland.
Opposition to the American plan is coming in recent months from Moscow, which does not want to see active US military presence in Eastern Europe. Russian officials have publicly expressed their disagreement with the plan and stressed that by allowing an American base on its ground, Poland itself would become a possible target for attacks.
Other European countries seem more open than in the past to the notion of missile defense systems. A 10,000 page study conducted by NATO and presented last month points out the threat posed to NATO countries by long range missiles and sets out scenarios to deal with the threat. At the same time, the report does not endorse the US missile defense plan.