Russia initially welcomed the plan, but 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.
But the administration is not pursuing that capability because it does not believe it is feasible, according to one senior defense official.
The military has considered deploying interceptors on ships, but the Navy has safety concerns that have not yet been resolved. The suggestion of attempting intercepts from ships on the North Sea probably would aggravate tensions with Russia. That could put it right in the path that some Russian ICBMs would use, further reinforcing Russia's belief that it, not Iran, is the target of the system.
The GAO investigators also took the administration to task for not conducting studies earlier that could have revealed the problems. Reports by the GAO and scientific bodies advising the government have raised other concerns about the missile shield, citing production glitches, cost overruns, problems with radars and sensors that cannot distinguish between warheads and other objects.
One report by the National Academy of Sciences recommended canceling the fourth phase of the system and deploying the interceptors to the East Coast.
The GAO study was requested by Rep. Michael Turner, R-Ohio, who until recently led a panel that oversees missile defense. He said he is concerned that the interceptor in development might be useless in protecting the United States.
"This report really confirms what I have said all along: that this was a hurried proposal by the president," he said.
Missile Defense Agency: http://www.mda.mil/system/system.html
Follow Desmond Butler on Twitter: http://twitter.com/desmondbutler
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