Last week, off the coast of Scotland, the U.S. Navy conducted a successful test intercept of a ballistic missile target (video), the first live intercept of a ballistic missile in Europe.

The Navy launched a Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) Block IA interceptor from the USS Ross as part of a joint exercise with eight U.S. allies. The interceptor successfully engaged its target, a short-range ballistic missile, outside the Earth’s atmosphere.

The U.S. deploys SM-3 interceptors on Navy ships as part of the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) System targeting short-range and medium-range missiles.

The Importance of Aegis

The successful test underscores Aegis BMD’s importance to European security. The U.S. currently deploys BMD-capable ships in Europe and is planning to deploy land-based SM-3 interceptors (Aegis Ashore) in Romania and Poland as part of the Obama administration’s European Phased Adaptive Approach.

The Obama administration should continue to deploy Aegis Ashore in order to defend NATO allies against ballistic missile threats from Russia and Iran. The administration should also pursue the deployment in Europe of an X-band radar, the tracking capabilities of which would enhance missile defense of both the homeland and Europe. The Bush administration was pursuing this course of action in the Czech Republic, but the Obama administration canceled that program. That decision should be reversed.

The Reality of Nuclear Threats

The ballistic missile threat is real. Iran recently tested a new precision-guided ballistic missile (in violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions) and has made no secret of its antipathy toward the West. Russia continues to test intermediate-range missiles in violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. Russian leaders, including President Vladimir Putin, have made several nuclear threats against NATO members, and Russian military doctrine does not preclude the first use of nuclear weapons.

While Aegis is important, it is only one facet of the comprehensive missile defense system the United States should be pursuing. Regrettably, the Obama administration canceled several promising projects in fiscal year 2009 that would target ballistic missiles during the boost and ascent phases of flight, when they are at their most vulnerable. Congress and the administration should reinstitute these or similar programs and pursue space-based interceptors in order to stay ahead of the threat.

Remaining Committed

Admiral Mark Ferguson, commander of U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa, remarked that the Navy’s successful SM-3 test “demonstrates the commitment of the United States to the defense of Europe through our Aegis ships and our shore station in Romania.”

The United States needs to maintain and enhance that commitment.