Guided-missile destroyers of the Arleigh Burke

A week ago, the Spanish government of Socialist Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero agreed to Spain’s participation in NATO’s European missile defense system by allowing four U.S. Navy Aegis guided-missile destroyers of the Arleigh Burke class to be stationed at the naval base of Rota, in southwestern Spain.

These destroyers are armed with the Standard SM-3 surface-to-air missile (SAM) designed to intercept short- and medium-range ballistic missiles. The U.S. Navy destroyers will be based in Rota beginning in 2013, along with 1,100 servicemen and 100 civilian employees. Together with their families, it is expected that 3,400 Americans will live in Rota.

The basing of the destroyers at Naval Station Rota will create job opportunities for the Spanish through new construction projects and new jobs expected to be created in the economically depressed Bay of Cadiz area.

The four Navy destroyers will be based permanently in Naval Station Rota, regarded as “the Gateway of the Mediterranean,” to provide Europe with missile defense in the Mediterranean region and in the eastern Atlantic. Such a role by the U.S. Navy warships could be complemented by the fifth Aegis frigate of the Spanish Álvaro de Bazán class (Project F-100), scheduled to enter service in 2012.

The new F-105 Cristóbal Colón will be equipped with the Aegis Weapon System Baseline 7.1, the advanced Aegis Open Architecture version capable of performing ballistic missile defense that includes Cooperative Engagement Capability (CEC), a program that links the ships of a task force so that they share radar tracks for fire-control purposes to engage enemy aircraft, cruise missiles, or ballistic missiles. It could also link ships to E-2D Advanced Hawkeye airborne early warning and control aircraft and land-based SAM batteries.

The Cristóbal Colón will have the SPY-1D(V) phased array radar, designed to operate also in the littorals. Thus, the new frigate could join the four Arleigh Burke–class destroyers to be stationed in Rota to defend Europe from a future attack by Iranian and North Korean-made medium-range and intermediate-range ballistic missiles.

Spain could also contribute to Europe’s missile defense if it upgrades its first four Aegis frigates—named Álvaro de Bazán (F-101), Almirante Juan de Borbón (F-102), Blas de Lezo (F-103), and Méndez Núñez (F-104)—to have CEC and be capable of firing the SM-3 missile. Through these improvements, NATO could have a naval force of up to nine ships to defend Europe’s southern Mediterranean flank from a ballistic missile attack coming from the Levant.

Spain’s current serious economic problems may prevent the modernization of its first four F-100 frigates to the Aegis Baseline 7.1 standard in the near future. An improvement of Spain’s economic situation later in the decade, coupled with U.S. assistance through the program of Foreign Military Sales and through the Foreign Military Financing Program, could make those upgrades possible.

Additionally, the Spanish army has one battery of Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) and an unknown number of these SAMs in its No. 74 regiment of anti-aircraft artillery. The PAC-3 SAM system can intercept aircraft, cruise missiles, and tactical ballistic missiles. Through CEC, the Spanish PAC-3 battery could be linked to the Navy’s four Aegis destroyers armed with the SM-3 missile and to the fifth Spanish Aegis frigate once it becomes operational, in support of the missile defense mission.

Moreover, Spain’s PAC-3 air and missile defense system could be upgraded with the more capable PAC-3 Missile Segment Enhancement missile, which, incidentally, has been chosen for the Medium Extended Air Defense System program, of which Spain is not a participant.