Spanish base to host NATO missile shield unit

US Navy to send four ships and 1,100 men to Rota in Bay of Cádiz

NATO has selected the Spanish naval base of Rota in the southern province of Cádiz as its main operating center for the sea-based component of the alliance's anti-missile shield. Under the terms of an agreement negotiated in secret over the past few months, the United States will deploy 1,100 military personnel and 100 civilians to Rota to operate the defense system against ballistic missiles from as far away as Iran and North Korea.

The deal is due to be announced officially on Thursday by Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero at NATO's headquarters in Brussels, alongside the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's secretary general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, and US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.

Although the United States has not given details of the type of ships to be based at Rota, they are expected to be equipped with the latest version of Aegis, which was specially designed to provide protection against ballistic missiles. The US Navy has 18 ships with Aegis on board: 15 Arleigh Burke class destroyers and three Ticonderoga class cruisers. Both 6,500-ton classes have crews of 350.

The four vessels assigned to missile shield duties will be the first US Navy ships to have their permanent base in Spain. US ships that currently make port call visits to Rota are based in Italy. The government expects that the deployment will create 300 direct and 1,000 indirect jobs along the Bay of Cádiz. Although the Spanish Navy has four F-100 frigates also equipped with the Aegis system, it is not foreseen for the moment that they will also be deployed as part of the NATO initiative.

The accord with the United States implies a substantial change in the role played by Rota within NATO. The Spanish government, however, does not believe this will require modifications to the bilateral defense treaty signed with the United States in 1988 and amended in 2002.

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