New U.S. Military Missile Defense System Could Protect Europe From Russia and Iran

The U.S. military has floated the possibility of stationing a new missile defense system in Germany that would have the capability of protecting Europe from both Russia and Iran, according to reports.

U.S. adversaries consider the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system threatening, and its deployment will likely rile Moscow, which has long opposed the stationing of missile defense systems in Europe.

The U.S. military has been testing the THAAD system for the past decade, making it a relatively new addition to the its missile defense arsenal. The company Lockheed Martin also has been testing the THAAD system in recent years, in Hawaii, and found that the system was highly capable of intercepting ballistic missiles like the kind that could be launched by Iran, Russia and North Korea.

"Two THAAD interceptors and a Standard-Missile 3 Block IA missile were launched resulting in the intercept of two near-simultaneous medium-range ballistic missile targets. The test, designated Flight Test Operational-01 (FTO-01), demonstrated the ability of the Aegis BMD and THAAD weapon systems to function in a layered defense architecture," the company said in a statement following a test in 2013.

The debate over whether to sell the system abroad has been mired in controversy. Several years ago, South Korea expressed interest in purchasing the missile defense system to protect against incoming ballistic missiles from Pyongyang, North Korea. But South Korea's neighbor China was unhappy about the decision, leading to a temporary diplomatic fallout between the two countries.

Now, some analysts have suggested that the discussion over whether to send the system to Germany is being taken more seriously in the wake of President Donald Trump's decision to pull the U.S. out of the Iran nuclear deal. Iran already has missiles capable of reaching the south of Europe, and it's likely the country will work to increase those capabilities if the deal with the U.S. falls apart completely.

For now, China and Europe have signaled that they plan to maintain their end of the deal, which could deter Iran from developing its nuclear enrichment and missile programs further. But U.S. military experts said sending THADD to Europe would show Washington's allies that the Trump administration is serious about defending them in any scenario.

Discussions about whether to send THADD to Germany will likely continue into the summer, and it is expected that Russia will oppose the stationing of more U.S. missile defense systems in Europe, as it has in the past.

"Missile defense has been an issue on the agenda between Washington and Moscow since the 1960s. Although the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty appeared to resolve the question, it kept coming back—in the form of U.S. suspicions about the large, phased array Soviet radar at Krasnoyarsk, Soviet concern about the Strategic Defense Initiative, National Missile Defense programs, U.S. withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and plans for deploying missile defenses in Europe," noted a report by the Brookings Institution.