U.S. preps for missile defense test

The United States is preparing for the first test of sea-based defenses against longer-range missiles, a potential future Iranian threat to Europe from missiles tipped with chemical, biological or nuclear warheads.

The event will test confidence in the Obama administration’s tight timeline for defending European allies and U.S. forces that have been deployed against a perceived Iranian threat, Reuters reports. The last two intercept tests of the U.S. ground-based missile defenses have failed.

These sea-based tests against missiles with an intermediate range of 2,000 to 3,500 miles could validate the protection of cities like Paris, Berlin and London, which are all in range of Iran’s westernmost soil. The coming test is known as FTM-15.

"During FTM-15, Aegis BMD (ballistic missile defense) will demonstrate for the first time its capability to negate the longer-range threats that must be countered in Phase 1 of the U.S.-planned bulwark for Europe,” J. Michael Gilmore, the Pentagon’s top weapons tester, said in congressional testimony last month, according to Reuters.

The United States projects that it will meet the goal of putting an initial missile defense capability in Europe by the end of 2011.

"It is tremendously important that it's a success as this exact architecture is to be deployed in Europe by the end of this year in the first phase of Obama's plan," Rikki Ellison, head of the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance, said, according to Reuters.

Though the missile defense system is assumed to have connection to the potential Iranian threat, missile defense expert Greg Thielmann discounted the likelihood of such a threat.

"Any suggestion that a threat to the heart of Europe looms in the next couple of years does not seem consistent with public statements from the U.S. intelligence community," Thielmann said, according to Reuters.