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Problems with missile defense shield cast doubt on system

WASHINGTON -- Major delays, cost overruns and critical technological problems are plaguing a missile defense system designed to protect America and Europe from an Iranian attack, Pentagon advisers and government investigators say in two reports about one of President Obama's top military programs.

The reports cast doubt on the shield, a politically sensitive issue at home and in relations with Russia. They say missile interceptors are running into production glitches, radars are underpowered and sensors cannot distinguish between warheads and other objects.

A report by the Defense Science Board, an advisory group to the Defense Department, came out late last year but received little notice. While it concludes there are "no fundamental roadblocks" to the system, it cites big problems without saying how they can be fixed.

The second report, by Congress' nonpartisan Government Accountability Office, was released Friday.

Some Republicans say the reports support their view that the program was designed hastily to ease the concerns of Russia, which had objected to previous missile defense plans by the Bush administration, with less regard to whether it would work.

"There is a political timeline and agenda that doesn't meet a scientific, development and security timeline," said Rep. Michael Turner, R-Ohio, chairman of a House panel that oversees missile defense. "It does not appear that it can deliver the protection for U.S. homeland that this administration promised."

The administration insists the plans are on track. Missile defense in Europe has been an issue since the middle of the last decade, when President George W. Bush announced plans to base long-range interceptors in central Europe as a defense against missiles from Iran. That infuriated Russia, which believed the program was intended to counter Moscow's intercontinental ballistic missiles and undermine its nuclear deterrent.

Soon after Obama took office in 2009, he revamped the program as he looked to improve relations with Moscow. His plans called for slower interceptors 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.

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