The Army Corps of Engineers has awarded a construction contract for its planned ballistic missile interceptor site in Romania, another step toward the completion of a NATO European missile shield opposed by Russia.
The $134 million contract with global construction firm Kellogg Brown and Root, announced by the company in a press release last week, will include the buildup of facilities and infrastructure on a 269-acre site at Deveselu Air Base in the country’s south.
Plans call for the site to hold 24 Standard Missile-3 interceptors of the Block IB variant, making it the first land deployment of the Aegis ballistic missile defense system previously only installed on Navy ships.
Construction of the site will mark the second phase of the staged deployment of missile defense components across Europe, a system that two U.S. administrations have described as a defense against Iran. The first phase included installation of a radar system in Turkey, which was manned with U.S. soldiers in 2012.
The second phase, including the work in Romania, is pegged for completion in 2015.
The third phase, scheduled for deployment in 2018, includes a second land-based site, in Poland. The U.S. also plans to deploy four Aegis-based ships to its naval station in Rota, Spain, beginning in 2014. The system’s operational headquarters will be at Ramstein Air Base, Germany.
A planned fourth phase, canceled earlier this year due in part to costs and delays, called for the deployment of an SM-3 variant to intercept intercontinental ballistic missiles launched at the U.S. from the Middle East. The current variants are designed to intercept missiles with short and medium ranges.
Russia has opposed NATO’s missile defense shield since it was first announced by the administration of President George W. Bush, which planned for a much more elaborate system including longer-range interceptors to be based in Poland and the Czech Republic.
The Obama administration announced in 2009 that it would focus on shorter-range missiles and the offshore capabilities of Aegis-equipped ships.
The U.S. and NATO have pointed to Iran’s nuclear program as reason for the shield’s necessity. They also say the Aegis system has no offensive capabilities, as the interceptors carry no explosive warheads.
But Moscow has continued to oppose the system, pointing out that Iran does not possess long-range ballistic missiles that can reach Europe. It has warned that time is running out for a solution.
The U.S. estimates some 200 military, civilian employees and contractors will be needed to run the U.S. facility at Deveselu. The Romanian air force will still maintain control over the base.
As part of construction, KBR will disassemble and move a four-story radar deckhouse — the land-based counterpart to the radar housing on an Aegis-equipped ship — from the U.S. East Coast to Romania, according to the press release.