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Gates: Iran could launch "hundreds" of missiles at Europe

By Larry Shaughnessy, CNN Pentagon Producer
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Gates says U.S. is looking for new way to defend Europe from missile attacks
  • Defense secretary: Russia is "schizophrenic" in dealing with Iran
  • Expert warns United States in no position to defend Europe from mass missile attack
  • But, he says, Iran's "beef" is with United States and Israel, not Europe

Washington (CNN) -- Iran could, if it wanted, launch "scores even hundreds of missiles" into Europe, according to Defense Secretary Robert Gates, but serious questions remain as to whether the United States can create a defense against such an attack.

Gates told a Senate committee Thursday that the United States is looking at a new way of defending Europe from missile attacks from countries like Iran.

The concept is called "phased adaptive array," a flexible system of defenses that relies on moveable land and sea-based interceptor missiles. He said it is "absolutely essential" that part of the plan for phased array includes upgrades to the interceptors to stop longer-range missiles.

"One of the elements of the intelligence that contributed to the decision on the phased adaptive array was the realization that if Iran were actually to launch a missile attack on Europe, it wouldn't be just one or two missiles, or a handful, it would more likely be a salvo kind of attack, where you would be dealing potentially with scores or even hundreds of missiles," Gates warned.

But one influential arms expert, when asked if the United States could defend its bases and allies in Europe from such an attack said simply, "Hell, no."

John Pike, the founder and director of GlobalSecurity.org, told CNN that an important part of U.S. anti-missile defense is not fully tested.

"The Patriot (anti-missile defense system) is combat proven, but only against short range missiles," Pike said. The Patriot has not been combat proven against the longer-range missiles that Iran would use if attacking Europe.

Pike said we could protect small areas of Europe where ground-based interceptors are located, perhaps near a U.S. military base. But the rest of Europe would be unprotected.

While Iran does have the capability to launch a salvo of missiles at Europe it probably doesn't have the intent, Pike noted. Iran only has a beef with Israel and the United States, not Europe, he said.

"They don't chant 'Death To Belgium' on the weekends in Iran," Pike said.

Gates testified that future upgrades to our missile defense "would give us the ability to protect our troops, our bases, our facilities and our allies in Europe."

Pike also said one concern that must be addressed is the likelihood that in a few years, Iran could have nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles. That would mean, if Iran fired 100 missiles at once at Europe, "we'd have no way of knowing which one had the (nuclear) bomb," Pike said. "We'd have to shoot them all down."

Gates told the Senate committee that he's encouraging them to help get the phased adaptive array system built up and improved. One part of the problem is Russia, which opposes European-based missile defense systems.

He said the Russian are "schizophrenic" in their approach to Iran and its missile and nuclear ambitions.

"When I was in Moscow in -- three years ago, then-President (Vladimir) Putin told me that he considered Iran Russia's greatest national security threat," Gates said. But another Russian leader, when asked why Russia supports Iran's nuclear program told Gates, "It's all about the money" and the commercial opportunities in Iran.

Gates told Congress they are talking to Russia about cooperating on a missile defense system.