The Obama administration's plan to employ a next-generation missile interceptor in Europe that could defeat ICBMs was criticized in recent classified Pentagon studies as potentially unfeasible, the Associated Press reported on Saturday.
The U.S. "phased adaptive approach" calls for fielding increasingly capable interceptors around Europe in coming years as a hedge against feared ballistic missile strikes by Iran. The capstone of the project is the still largely theoretical Standard Missile 3 Block 2B interceptor, which is envisioned as having the ability to defeat medium- and intermediate range ballistic missiles as well as first-generation ICBMs in the early stages of flight.
The SM-3 Block 2B interceptor has yet to really get off the ground in spite of an administration goal of having the weapon fielded in Europe around 2020. Multiple scientific and government studies have questioned the utility and feasibility of the advanced missile. Congressional appropriators have criticized plans for the interceptor and the Pentagon last fall signaled the program would be further delayed when it revealed defense contractors would not be asked to submit Block 2B design plans until spring 2014.
The Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency in multiple classified assessments found a number of problems with plans for the interceptor, according to a Government Accountability Office briefing acquired by AP.
The Obama plan calls for deploying land-based interceptors in Poland and Romania. However, Romania is seen as an unsuitable geographic spot for hosting the Block 2B if it was to defeat ICBMs launched against the United States. A basing point of Poland would only be suitable if the U.S. military acquired "boost phase intercept" abilities that would eliminate Iranian missiles right after they leave the ground and before their rocket engines have ceased firing.
The Obama administration has decided not to pursue that capacity after concluding the technology is not achievable, an unidentified high-ranking U.S. defense official told AP.
The Defense Department has studied basing interceptor-equipped warships in the North Sea. That option would likely further upset Russia, which is already worried about the potential for the Block 2B interceptor to challenge its own ICBM force.
Congressional auditors criticized the Obama administration for not sooner researching thoroughly all of the challenges associated with deploying the Block 2B interceptor.
"This report really confirms what I have said all along: that this was a hurried proposal by the president," said Representative Michael Turner (R-Ohio), who ordered the GAO report.