WASHINGTON – Iranian technology is on pace to build a long-range missile that could strike the United States within a decade, a high-level Pentagon official told FOX News.
But a successful test of a missile defense program completed last week is giving military leaders more confidence that an airborne attack from Iran can be thwarted — if the United States is able to convince Europe to go along with the plans to build an anti-missile system there against strong Russian opposition.
"Most of the intelligence experts predict that sometime before 2015, or in that time frame, the Iranians will have developed the capabilities to threaten the United States, from a missile technology perspective, "Lt. Gen. Henry Obering, chief of the U.S. missile defense program, said Tuesday in a Pentagon interview with FOX News. Of concern Obering said is Iran's ability to take shorter range technology and improving it to longer and longer ranges.
Meanwhile, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said Wednesday the U.S. was in no position to start a war against Iran given its military commitment in Iraq.
Growing international political tension with Iran over its nuclear program and its role in orchestrating insurgent attacks in Iraq has given military officials here reason to step up their efforts in developing a workable missile defense system.
Right now, the administration is working on a plan to build a missile defense system to protect against Iranian weapons in friendly host countries in Europe. But those plans have been loudly criticized by Russia — which thinks the system could be used to attack their own missiles
Additionally, U.S. lawmakers have stripped $85 million from the program in their consideration of the Defense Authorization bill. Prior to its passage in the Senate Monday, lawmakers said there should be an approval from the host countries, including Poland and the Czech Republic, before that money slated for construction is authorized.
But last week's successful interceptor missile system test conducted by the U.S. Missile Defense Agency off the coast of California gave the program a needed shot of confidence. The system was designed to simulate an attack from North Korea or possibly Iran.
"It was a picture perfect intercept," Obering said. Since 2001, six out of nine test flights have been successful and three have failed. Obering said there has not been a failed intercept test in 2 1/2 years. Last year, a test did not come to completion when the test missile failed to launch properly.
The interceptor missile was fired from Alaska, flying for 24 minutes before being struck by the interceptor missile, which was fired from Vandenburg Air Base in California, and flew seven minutes. The two missiles collided over open ocean, smashing to pieces miles above.
The program has its roots in the 1980s Strategic Defense Initiative — dubbed the "Star Wars" program — started in the Reagan administration. Since 1983 it has cost $100 billion. Despite the money stripped out, the 2008 Defense Authorization bill included $8.6 billion for the program.
This missile defense system in California and Alaska is designed to protect against North Korean missiles fired from Asia. It is similar to the system that the US would like to place in Europe to protect against Iranian missiles.
The European system, Obering said, would be created specifically to intercept Iranian missiles. Obering strongly denied the Russian charge — that it could be used against them — saying the system would be too close to Russia launch points to be effective.
"The system we are fielding has nothing to do with Russia," Obering said today.
The acrimony between Americans and Russians over the antimissile system comes as Russia has been sending bomber flights over U.S. and European interests, including new reports of their bombers flying just outside U.S. airspace in Alaska seven times since July 1.
For its part, Iran isn't officially fazed by U.S. plans to defend against any missiles. In June, Iran's top nuclear negotiator called the plan "the joke of the year."
FOX News' Jennifer Griffin, Justin Fishel and The Associated Press contributed to this report.