The Pentagon purchased the air-launched cruise missile knowing it did not perform as intended, a former military official said in an interview published Wednesday.

The weapon, billed as a low-flying, radar-evading missile, in fact was not able to fly low enough to hide from enemy radar, retired Air Force Lt. Col. Ronald F. Deady told the Antelope Valley Press.Deady, who now lives in Lancaster, was a member of the Joint Strategic Planning Staff at Strategic Air Command headquarters in Omaha, Neb., from 1974 to 1978 and was among the officials who monitored the missile's testing.

"The command approved it knowing that it did not fulfill operational specifications," he said.

An Air Force spokesman denied the charges, saying the missile "met its stated purpose."

The Carter administration had chosen the cruise missile program over the B-1 bomber to be one of the nation's main defense systems. The missile can be armed with nuclear warheads.

Deady, whose job at Edwards Air Force Base from 1978 to 1981 was to ensure the missile was meeting military specifications, said he found that tests were conducted in a way to make it appear the missile worked properly.

For instance, he said the missile was launched from B-52s flying at altitudes that did not fit all operational profiles determined by the Strategic Air Command.

In addition, the missile was usually tested when the weather was conducive for successful flights, he said.

Deady said he complained to his superiors but got no response. Colleagues advised him against pursuing the matter, he said, and he took their advice and wrote favorable reports for the sake of his career.

"The normal methods of delivery did not perform up to operational specifications," he said. "But when we turned a report in, we did not say that it does not meet specifications. We said it could."

However, Deady said he suspects the military in April 1983 reduced its missile orders from more than 3,000 to 1,715 because the weapon could not adequately evade enemy defenses.