Jan 9, 2014

Missile destroyers to raise the significance of Rota and the Mediterranean

The former Cold War submarine base in this sleepy town in southern Spain is about to experience a dramatic transformation — it will become the centerpiece of NATO’s new ballistic missile defense shield stretching across southern and eastern Europe.

In February, the first of four U.S. Aegis missile destroyers, the USS Donald Cook, is scheduled to arrive here for permanent stationing. Another ship will come later in 2014, followed by two more in 2015. The Arleigh-Burke class ships, which are capable of shooting down ballistic missiles, will patrol the Mediterranean basin on four-month rotations on a mission to protect Europe from the threat of attack from Iran.

The program, known as the European Phased Adaptive Approach, is part of a wider NATO plan that includes land-based interceptor batteries in Romania and Poland and a radar system in Turkey. The plan has caused a major rift with Russia, which says the shield is aimed against its own nuclear missile arsenal.

Rota, located near the Strait of Gibraltar, will nearly double in population by the time the last ship arrives in 2015. The four vessels will bring more sailors and families to the town, as well as strategic significance as a base that is on the front lines of U.S. strategy in the region.

The arrival of the ships coincides with increased U.S. interest in the Mediterranean and Africa, where an area of instability ranges from Syria down to Egypt and across much of northern Africa, parts of which have become havens for militant groups. The Mediterranean also remains the gateway for U.S. deployments to the Middle East and the Persian Gulf, where operations in Afghanistan and tensions with Iran have led to increased tours by carrier groups and smaller craft.

The four destroyers will significantly add to the number of ships controlled by the U.S. Sixth Fleet and U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa, a command that for years has had only its flagship, the USS Mount Whitney, as a permanent presence.

The U.S. established Rota in 1953 in a deal with Spanish dictator Francisco Franco in exchange for economic and military aid to the regime.

Located inside a 6,100-acre Spanish base on the Bay of Cadiz, the installation offered a way-station to ships and aircraft transiting the Atlantic before entering the Mediterranean. In 1960, it received a squadron of Skywarrior reconnaissance jets.

Rota further expanded with the arrival of the Polaris missile-wielding Submarine Squadron 16 from Charleston, S.C., in 1964.


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