U.S. says will seek 3rd missile-defense site in Europe

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States hopes to put a third major antimissile component in Europe along with those under negotiation with Poland and the Czech Republic to counter Iran, the general building a multibillion-dollar shield said Tuesday.

The previously unannounced third leg in Europe involves a highly mobile X-band radar station, built by Raytheon Co. It would be placed closer to Iran, which is speeding efforts to build ballistic missiles capable of delivering deadly weapons beyond the Middle East, said Air Force Lt. Gen. Henry Obering, head of the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency.

The powerful, “forward based” radar system would go in southeastern Europe, possibly in Turkey, the Caucasus or the Caspian Sea region, Obering told a defense-technology conference sponsored by Aviation Week magazine.

He said it was identical to a U.S. radar placed opposite North Korea in northern Japan at an air base near the village of Shariki.

“This is very mobile, transportable, so it’s not something we have to deal with immediately,” Obering said, “It’s something we can deal with downstream.”

He said the United States was “on track” to reach agreements with Poland and the Czech Republic for the first two European antimissile sites it has been seeking.

Major U.S. missile-defense contractors include Boeing Co, Lockheed Martin Corp and Northrop Grumman, in addition to Raytheon.

Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski of Poland said February 1 that his country had agreed in principle to a controversial missile defense system proposed by Washington after getting assurances that Washington would help with other defense needs.

President George W. Bush has asked Congress for $719.8 million in fiscal 2009 to start installing 10 interceptor missiles in Poland and a radar station in the Czech Republic.

The X-band radar uses a finely focused beam that is capable of tracking and viewing small objects in space, like a missile warhead, with great clarity. Experts describe it as very capable for distinguishing decoys from warheads.

The Missile Defense Agency already has acquired a second such radar and plans to build two more for a total of four, Richard Lehner, an agency spokesman, said.

The second forward-based radar, now at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, will be moved later this month to a site near Juneau, Alaska, Lehner said. There it will be located temporarily to take part in the next test of the core U.S. missile defense system in late spring or early summer, he said.

Closer proximity of a powerful radar system, such as the X-band, to a launch site allows for earlier detection, which provides greater accuracy for targeting.

Editing by Maureen Bavdek