|NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen speaks at a press conference during the NATO Summit in Chicago, May 20, 2012. (Xinhua/Fang Zhe)
CHICAGO, May 20 (Xinhua) -- NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen on Sunday announced progress in the alliance's missile defense system as well as agreements in over 20 multinaitional defense programs in order to pool resources together in the age of austerity.
The missile shield has reached "interim capability," the first step toward the long-term goal of providing "full coverage and protection for all NATO European populations, territory and forces," Rasmussen said after heads of state and government met here for the first day of the security bloc's summit.
He said the system will link missile defense assets such as radars, interceptors and Aegis ships from different member states under unified NATO command and control.
"It will allow us to defend against threats from outside the Euro-Atlantic area," said Rasmussen.
According to the White House, the milestone means components of the European missile shield, funded and built mostly by the United States, will be transferred to NATO command.
With initial NATO command and control procedures in place, President Barack Obama has directed the Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta to transfer operational control of the U.S. AN/TPY-2 radar in Turkey to NATO, said the White House.
The White House also said, the radar's information, combined with the NATO command and control system, gives NATO missile defense commanders a "comprehensive and real-time operational picture, enabling them to employ the available missile defense assets effectively."
In addition, U.S. missile defense-capable warships in Europe are also able to operate under NATO operational control when necessary, said the White House, noting interim capability is scheduled to be followed by the milestones of initial operational capability in 2015 and full operational capability in 2018.
Rasmussen said the 28-member alliance has made headway on its smart defense philosophy, which means pooling resources together to acquire costly capabilities in the age of austerity.
The leaders "approved a robust package of more than 20 multinational projects, to provide the capabilities we need, at a price we can afford," said the NATO chief.
Rasmussen said the programs include the Allied Ground Surveillance program, in which NATO countries will purchase five Block 40 Global Hawk unmanned aircraft equipped with an advanced ground surveillance radar sensor as well as the associated command and control base stations, to be operated by NATO.
The package also include extension of Baltic Air Policing, in which allied countries' fighter jets patrol the skies of Baltic nations, allowing them to forego the acquisition of expensive planes, and focus their security resources on other high-priority NATO capabilities and operations.
"Smart Defense is a vital principle. And we have agreed to make it the new way NATO does business. And we are putting it into practice," said Rasmussen.
The first day of NATO summit focused on the alliance's capability as the gap in military spending widens between the United States and Europe, and on Monday, NATO will discuss its effort on long-term relationship with Afghanistan.
Rasmussen said more than 60 leaders attending the summit will "focus on the future of Afghanistan," and that meeting "will send a strong signal of commitment to the Afghan people." But he also acknowledged it would not be a "pledging session," as few countries are expected to attach a dollar figure to the support.