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US, NATO move ahead with Romanian anti-missile base

STUTTGART, Germany — Construction is now underway at a new anti-missile base in southern Romania, signaling that U.S. and NATO missile defense plans for Europe will press forward even as defense budgets shrink on both sides of the Atlantic.

U.S., Romanian and NATO officials attended aground-breaking ceremony Monday in Deveselu, a rural town that will eventually host about 200 U.S. sailors.

Among those attending the ceremony were U.S. Undersecretary of Defense for Policy James N. Miller, Romanian President Traian Basescu and NATO Deputy Secretary General Alexander Vershbow.

While U.S. officials have insisted the missile defense program is directed at threats from the Middle East, such as Iran, Russia has been a vocal opponent of the program. Moscow suspects that missile defense initiatives are aimed at countering Russian missiles, and its diplomats have argued that a NATO missile shield doesn’t make sense since Iran doesn’t have rockets capable of threatening western Europe.

“This facility will be an important part of NATO’s overall missile defenses in Europe,” Vershbow said in a NATO news release. “This facility will not threaten anyone, but bring better protection for the people, the forces and the territory of the allied countries in Europe.”

In Romania, the U.S. is expected to invest millions of dollars as part of an overall plan to establish a ground-based radar system and anti-missile interceptors in the country by 2015. In July, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Europe District awarded a $134 million construction contract to Kellogg, Brown & Root Services that encompasses all aspects of the Aegis Ashore facility, including construction of the foundations for the Standard Missile-3 launchers and a host of operational support facilities.

An additional contract focused on U.S. Navy support facilities is to be announced in early 2014.

When the administration of President Barack Obama announced plans for the European Phased Adaptive Approach to missile defense in 2009, the plan initially focused on four phases of development. The first involved the deployment of the sea-based Aegis weapon system in the Mediterranean. Phase two called for the establishment of a similar land-based system in Romania by 2015.

Phases three and four called for the development of weapons systems capable of countering intermediate range missiles, with stage four potentially countering inter-continental threats aimed at the U.S.

In March, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced that the U.S. would scrap the final phase, which called for the placement of long-range interceptors in Poland.

However, the U.S. remains committed to the first three phases of the plan, which is expected to be in place by 2018, according to NATO.

vandiver.john@stripes.com

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