A mechanism for Europe which will link together the missile defence assets from different allies under the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation's command has been declared operational by the organisation.
Announced by the alliance 18 months ago, the system has been termed by NATO Director General Anders Fogh Rasmussen as a step towards the organisation's long-term goal of providing full coverage and protection for all its European partners.
"Our system will link together missile defence assets from different allies -- satellites, ships, radars and interceptors -- under NATO command and control. It will allow us to defend against threats from outside the Euro-Atlantic area," Rasmussen said in Chicago after the first session of the NATO summit.
He also called the system an interim capability.
"We have decided to develop a NATO missile defence system because we consider the missile threat a real threat and against a real threat, we need a real defence to protect our population effectively," Rasmussen said, adding that NATO would continue to hold dialogues with Russia in this regard.
"Of course that can't be blocked by Russia. It's a NATO decision. Having said that we have invited Russia to co-operate on missile defence and this invitation still stands," he said.
Rasmussen added that NATO will "continue" the dialogue process with Russia and hoped that at a certain stage, Russia would "realise" that it's in common interest to co-operate on missile defence.
The NATO chief also termed the initiative a true trans-Atlantic teamwork with the United States and European Allies investing in common security.
Rasmussen said the move was an excellent example of the renewed culture of cooperation -- Smart Defence -- with countries "working together" to develop capabilities which they "could not develop alone".
"We already have some good examples. In the Baltic States, NATO allies take turns to patrol the airspace. This means our Baltic allies can focus their resources in other critical areas, such as deployable forces for Afghanistan. This is why we have agreed that NATO will provide continuous air policing for the Baltic states," the NATO chief said.
Rasmussen said NATO members have also agreed to acquire an Alliance Ground Surveillance capability.
"During our operation to protect the people of Libya, we learnt how important it is to have the best possible intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. So we realised that we need more of this capability. We are now filling that gap," he said.
"Today, a contract is signed to acquire five unarmed drones which will let our commanders identify threats, identify targets and see what is happening over the horizon, at any time," Rasmussen said, terming Smart Defence a "vital" principle, which, he said, will become the "new way of doing business" for NATO.
He added that a robust package of more than 20 multinational projects was approved to provide the "needed capabilities" at "affordable prices".
"For instance, in Afghanistan, we have earned how important it is to protect our forces against roadside bombs. So a number of allies will jointly acquire remote-controlled robots which can clear such bombs -- protecting our forces and civilians alike," he said.
Underlining the importance of keeping watch on the sea, Rasmussen said after their operations over Libya and off the Horn of Africa, the group of allies agreed to pool their maritime patrol aircraft that provides more awareness with more efficiency.
"Smart Defence means spending smartly on what we need. And it also means not duplicating. That is why we welcome the efforts in the framework of the EU to address the European shortfall in air to air refuelling. Within NATO, we have also agreed that our forces will step up exercises, training and education, including with our partners. So they can preserve the skills they have mastered in operations," he said.
The NATO chief asserted that these decisions highlight the fact that despite "economic challenges", the allies were "committed" to acquire, develop and maintain the required capabilities and skills.
"Our goal is NATO Forces 2020 -- an alliance that deals with the economic challenges of today, and is prepared for the security challenges of the future," Rasmussen said.