WASHINGTON – Secret Defense Department studies cast doubt on whether a multibillion-dollar missile defense system planned for Europe will ever be able to protect the U.S. from Iranian missiles as intended, congressional investigators say.
Military officials say they believe the problems can be overcome and are moving forward with plans. But proposed fixes could be difficult. One possibility has already been ruled out as technically unfeasible. Another, relocating missile interceptors planned for Poland and possibly Romania to ships on the North Sea, could be diplomatically explosive.
Obama reworked the plans soon after taking office in 2009, arguing that the threat from long-range Iranian missiles was years off. His plans called for slower interceptors that could address Iran’s medium-range missiles. The interceptors would be upgraded gradually over four phases, culminating early next decade with those intended to protect both Europe and the United States.
The plans have gained momentum in Europe with the signing of basing agreements in Poland, Romania and Turkey, as well as backing by NATO. But Russia, while initially welcoming the plan, now strongly opposes it, especially the interceptors in the final stage. Russia fears those interceptors could catch its intercontinental missiles launched at the U.S.
It is that fourth stage that is now at issue. The GAO investigators said that the classified reports by the Missile Defense Agency concluded that Romania was a poor location for an interceptor to protect the U.S. It said the Polish site would work only if the U.S. developed capabilities to launch interceptors while an Iranian missile was in its short initial phase of powered flight.
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