NATO Missile Defense on the High Seas

February 14, 2014
Briefing on the USS Donald Cooks Weapons Systems

When the U.S. Mission to NATO received word that a specially-equipped destroyer -- the USS Donald Cook -- would be arriving in February for permanent basing in Rota, Spain, as a key component of protecting Europe against ballistic missile threats, we jumped at the chance to organize a tour of the vessel for European media.  We were given unparalleled access to one of America's most sophisticated and powerful defense capabilities, and to the men and women that carry out the mission of operating, maintaining, and, if the situation warrants, using that capability to defend our Allies.  Fourteen journalists from a wide range of NATO states joined USNATO for the tour.  We viewed this opportunity -- a four-day journey on this top-of-the-line ship, from Funchal, Portugal to Rota, Spain -- as a once-in-a-blue moon occasion for press to experience firsthand this impressive ship's operations.

Besides its missile defense mission, the USS Donald Cook (DDG 75) also carries out maritime security operations, bilateral and multilateral training exercises, and other NATO deployments, including participation in the Standing NATO Maritime Groups.  The U.S. destroyer will patrol the Mediterranean on four-month rotations under U.S. command and control, but can be placed under NATO operational control if threat conditions warrant.

Journalists from 14 European NATO Ally countries aboard the deck of the USS Donald Cook for an in depth tour on NATO's Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) program, February 2014. [USNATO photo/ Public Domain]

The press packet for the USS Donald Cook describes it as "a multi-mission destroyer...designed to destroy enemy aircraft, missiles, submarines and surface ships."  This is a sobering description of a serious piece of equipment.  The Aegis radar and missile defense system detects, intercepts, and destroys incoming ballistic missile threats to NATO Allies, and therefore serves as the backbone of NATO's larger European missile defense system.  It was impressive, to say the least, to view the Cook's equipment up close: two MK 41 Vertical Launch Systems (VLS) for standard and Tomahawk Missiles; Harpoon Missile Launchers; one 54 caliber 22-foot cannon that can launch 20 five-inch diameter projectiles 13 nautical miles in one minute; two Phalanx radar-guided remote-operated machine guns; and a supply of MK 46 torpedoes which can be launched from two triple-tube mounts.

In the ship's Command Information Center (CIC), the heart of the Cook's weapons systems, highly trained naval officers man radar and computer stations that constantly monitor air, land, surface and submarine contacts in the vicinity.  It's here, at the core of the ship, that the journalists gained an appreciation of the complexity of some of the challenges and potential threats facing the Alliance, and the reassurance that the United States and NATO Allies stand ready to respond.

The arrival of the USS Cook to Rota is an undeniable, concrete example of America’s long-lasting and enduring commitment to Europe, and there are three more ships just like the Cook scheduled to arrive in Spain between now and the end of 2015.  The United States continues to bring high-tech, proven capabilities to the defense of its Allies...and they are coming at high speed on the high seas.

About the Author: Daniel A. Stewart serves as Deputy Public Affairs Advisor at the U.S. Mission to NATO.

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