More doubts over European missile defense

By Desmond Butler ,AP

WASHINGTON — A prestigious science group is casting more doubt on whether the Obama administration’s Europe-based missile defense shield can protect the United States, and recommends scrapping key parts of the system.

The conclusions from the National Academy of Sciences in a letter to lawmakers obtained by The Associated Press could complicate the administration’s efforts to get Congress to fund the program. Though the academy says the plans would effectively protect Europe, some lawmakers are already asking why the U.S., at a time of tight budgets, should spend billions on a system that provides limited homeland defense.

The academy’s letter bolsters two earlier reports by Defense Department advisers and congressional investigators that said the European system faced significant delays, cost overruns and technology problems.

The letter is dated April 3 and addressed to the chairman of the House of Representatives’ Strategic Forces subcommittee Michael Turner, a Republican and Democratic ranking member Loretta Sanchez.

Republicans, who have been questioning U.S. President Barack Obama’s national security credentials ahead of November elections, are likely to seize on the letter to bolster their argument that the European plans were poorly thought through and designed to appease Russia.

The defense shield is one of Obama’s top military programs. Soon after he took office in 2009, he revamped a Bush administration missile defense plan that had been a chief source of tension with Russia.

Obama’s plan called for slower interceptors than the earlier plan that could address Iran’s medium-range missiles. The interceptors would be upgraded gradually over four phases, culminating in 2020 with newer versions, still in development, that the administration says will protect Europe and the United States. The early phases call for using Aegis radars on ships and a more powerful radar based in Turkey. Later phases call for moving Aegis radars to Romania and Poland.

The academy says that proposed system could effectively defend Europe and U.S. troops based there against short and medium range missiles from Iran, if it fields an interceptor that is fast enough. But it dismisses the administration’s claims that the system will eventually offer protection to the United States as well. It says the system is “at best less than optimal for homeland defense.”