Washington, May 12 (IANS) The US is to launch a new ground-based missile defence system in Romania on Thursday amid increased tensions with Russia.
The system, to be operated by NATO, is finally getting launched nearly a decade after the US first announced plans to do so, only to encounter a pushback from Russia.
The US has long insisted that the shield not intended to target Moscow’s missiles, but Russian officials have slammed the move as an “attempt to destroy the strategic balance” in Europe, CNN reported.
The system is to be turned over to NATO command and will be housed at a US naval support facility in Deveselu, the site of a Romanian military base.
On Friday, another phase of the project will be launched in Poland with a groundbreaking ceremony at Redzikowo, near the Baltic Sea.
Aegis missiles are to become operational there in 2018.
The Aegis Ashore Missile Defence System is capable of firing SM-3 defensive missiles that can “defeat incoming short and medium range enemy missiles”, according to Shawn Eklund, a spokesman for the US Navy.
Eklund told CNN that the facility will be manned by approximately 130 US sailors.
The inaugural ceremony for the new system will be attended by top U.S. and NATO military officials.
The Romania installation is the first land-based defensive missile launcher in Europe and will join other elements of the NATO defensive shield, including a command-and-control centre at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, a radar installation in Turkey and four ships capable of identifying enemy missiles and firing their own SM-3s based in Spain.