WASHINGTON — Secret Defense Department studies cast doubt on whether a multibillion-dollar missile defense system planned for Europe can ever protect the United States from Iranian missiles as intended, congressional investigators say.
Military officials say they believe they can overcome the problems and are moving forward with plans. But proposed fixes could prove difficult. One possibility has been ruled out as technically unfeasible. A second, relocating missile interceptors planned for Poland and possibly Romania to ships on the North Sea, could be diplomatically troublesome.
The studies are the latest to highlight serious problems for a plan that has been criticized on several fronts.
Republicans claim it was developed hastily in an attempt to appease Russia, which had opposed an earlier system. But Russia is also critical of the plan, which it believes is really intended to counter its missiles. A series of governmental and scientific reports has raised questions about whether it would ever work as planned.
At a time that the military faces giant budget cuts, the studies could lead Congress to reconsider whether it is worthwhile to spend billions for a system that might not fulfill its original goals.
The classified studies were summarized in a briefing for lawmakers by the Government Accountability Office, Congress' nonpartisan investigative and auditing arm, which is preparing a report. The GAO briefing, which was not classified, was obtained by The Associated Press.
Military officials declined repeated requests to discuss the studies on the record, noting they were classified. Even speaking on condition of anonymity, officials declined to say whether the GAO accurately had reported its conclusions. The briefing had been reviewed by Defense Department officials and revisions they requested were incorporated.