WASHINGTON, July 7 (UPI) -- The U.S. Navy last week carried out an exercise to check out the communications network of its Aegis anti-ballistic missile warships throughout the Middle East region, the Navy Times reported Friday.
The five-day ballistic missile defense exercise was conducted from June 28 through July 2, with two destroyers, the USS Benfold in the Persian Gulf and the USS Russell in the eastern Mediterranean, the newspaper said.
According to a statement issued by the U.S. 6th Fleet from its base in Naples, Italy, the exercise was "long scheduled," with planning initiated last year.
The exercise took place as Rear Adm. Bill Gortney took over command of the U.S. 5th Fleet in the Persian Gulf. Gortney had previously commanded the USS Harry S. Truman Carrier Strike Group during a seven-month deployment that included a tour of duty in the Persian Gulf, the Navy Times said.
Gortney takes command at a time of rapidly rising tensions between the United States and Iran. In June, the Israeli air force held maneuvers that have been described as a possible dry run for an air attack to knock out Iran's key nuclear facilities.
Top military commanders also have been in the region recently. Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen and U.S. Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead have both flown to Israel over the past few weeks and held talks with top Israeli commanders, the Navy Times said.
Mullen said Wednesday at the Pentagon that Iran was still "on a path to get to nuclear weapons, and I think that's something that needs to be deterred."
The Navy Times said the U.S. Navy was currently upgrading its capabilities to track and kill ballistic missiles. It said successful interceptions of target ballistic missiles already had been carried out by Aegis-equipped warships in the Pacific Ocean. The newspaper cited the U.S. Missile Defense Agency as saying that by next year three U.S. Navy cruisers and 15 destroyers will be equipped with SM-3s that can hit and destroy incoming ballistic missiles.
The paper said last week's maneuvers were officially called a communications exercise to check out the rapid exchange of information between the 5th Fleet in the Persian Gulf and the 6th Fleet in the Mediterranean.
"During the exercise, the ships will work with one another in detecting, tracking, sharing information and engaging a simulated ballistic missile by sharing data via a number of paths," said a statement from the 6th Fleet.
U.S. Navy cruisers and destroyers in the Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf are equipped with upgraded Aegis radar-guided Standard Missile-3s capable of intercepting and destroying intermediate range ballistic missiles including Iran's Shahad-3, which has a range capable of delivering a nuclear warhead to Israel or Saudi Arabia.
Russia pressures Lithuania on BMD base
Russia is turning up its diplomatic pressure on the small former Soviet republic of Lithuania, now a NATO member, following reports that the Lithuanian government would be willing to host a crucial U.S. ballistic missile defense base on its territory.
The U.S. government had sought to build a base for 10 Ground-based Midcourse Interceptors in Poland that could defend the United States and Western Europe from the threat of intercontinental ballistic missiles armed with nuclear weapons that might be fired by Iran or some other "rogue" state. However, the current Polish government of Prime Minister Donald Tusk has blocked negotiations on the issue and U.S. planners are now looking at building the base -- to be constructed by Boeing -- in neighboring Lithuania instead.
However, last week, the State Duma, the main chamber of the Russian Parliament, approved a statement demanding that Lithuania cease what the Duma described as "anti-Russian activity," Russia Today reported last Wednesday.
The Russians also were infuriated by a Lithuanian order prohibiting the public display of any Soviet-era symbol, including the Soviet flag, the uniform of the Red Army, which conquered Lithuania in 1940, or the Soviet national anthem.
"If they want to have good cooperation, good future, they'd better change their behavior. This is the only way to have friends in Europe," Russia Today quoted State Duma Deputy Andrey Klimov as saying during the debate.
The Duma statement also warned Lithuania that if it agreed to host the U.S. GBIs, Russia might retaliate by increasing its military forces next door to Lithuania in the Russia Federation enclave of Kaliningrad on the Baltic coast.
THAAD hits separated target
Lockheed Martin said in a recent statement that, working with the U.S. Missile Defense Agency, it had carried out a successful test of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system at the Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kauai, Hawaii.
The exercise confirmed the air-launched THAAD system's effectiveness "to detect, track, discriminate and intercept a separating target in the mid-endo-atmosphere," Lockheed Martin said.
The company said the test marked a significant advance on previous exercises because it was the first time the THAAD system had been used to hit and destroy a separated target. All test objectives were achieved, Lockheed Martin said.
The next THAAD flight test at PMRF is due to be conducted before the end of this year, the statement said.
"This successful mission once again proves THAAD's outstanding performance, this time against a new target type. The THAAD team has again met the challenge and delivered mission success," said Tom McGrath, program manager and vice president for THAAD at Lockheed Martin. "As we meet our increasing flight test objectives, the protection THAAD will provide to our war fighters, friends and allies around the world becomes more significant."
Since November 2005, Lockheed Martin said, the THAAD system has gone nine for nine in successful flight tests, including five for five successful intercepts of threat targets.