UPDATE 2-U.S. gears for high-stakes missile defense test

By Jim Wolf
April 7, 2011

The United States is preparing for its first test of a sea-based defense against longer-range missiles of a type that U.S. officials say could soon threaten Europe from Iran.

Much is riding on the event, including confidence in the Obama administration’s tight timeline for defending European allies and deployed U.S. forces against the perceived Iranian threat.

The last two intercept tests of a separate U.S. ground-based missile defense, aimed at protecting U.S. soil, have failed.

The planned sea-based test this month will pit Lockheed Martin Co’s (LMT.N) Aegis shipboard combat system and a Raytheon Co (RTN.N) missile interceptor against their first intermediate-range ballistic missile target, said Richard Lehner, a spokesman for the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency.

Previous such sea-based drills have been against shorter-range targets. Intermediate range is defined as 3,000 to 5,500 kilometers (2,000-3,500 miles) — a distance that would put London, Paris and Berlin within range of Iran’s westernmost soil.

The coming test, dubbed FTM-15, is “to demonstrate a capability against a class of ballistic missiles, and is not country-specific,” Lehner said in an emailed reply to queries from Reuters.

The layered, multibillion-dollar U.S. anti-missile effort also focuses on North Korea’s growing arsenal of missiles, which, like Iran’s, could perhaps be tipped with chemical, biological or nuclear warheads. …

Read on: www.reuters.com/article/2011/04/07/missile-usa-idUSN0711126920110407