The U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA) and one of its toughest detractors

recently found themselves in a rare reversal of roles, with the agency charging its

critic with

exaggerating the capability of interceptors it

hopes to deploy in Poland.

The MDA says the proposed interceptors in Poland are intended to protect Europe and the United States against Iranian missiles, but Russia has voiced suspicion that the site is designed to counter its own strategic rocket force. The MDA has attempted to assuage those concerns by saying the interceptors would not be fast enough to engage Russian missiles.

However, Ted Postol, a professor of science, technology and security policy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge,

said in a presentation to the American Association for the Advancement of Science

Aug. 28 that the MDA had

downplayed the speed of its interceptors and

overstated the speed of Russian missiles

to make the case that Russia has nothing to worry about.

The MDA has presented slides showing

the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) interceptors moving at 5.4 kilometers per second, when their more likely speed is

7.7 to 8.3 kilometers per second, Postol said. The

slides also have

shown the Russian


moving at 5.8 kilometers per second, whereas 5.1 kilometers per second is the more accurate figure, he said


has in the past criticized the

GMD, now being deployed in California and Alaska,

for being incapable of distinguishing between missile warheads and

decoys, and restated those concerns – and others – in his presentation.

However, Postol also said

that if the interceptors, sensors

and other components of missile defense work


advertised, they would be capable of hitting Russian missiles aimed at the United States. The MDA’s use of inaccurate data may exacerbate Russian suspicions that interceptors in Poland are intended to counter Russian rather than Iranian missiles, he said.

work was cited in an

Associated Press

report Sept. 27, leading the MDA to respond with a statement on its Web

site that it was “encouraged” that Postol believes

its interceptors can provide “an effective defense against very advanced weapons.

“However, MDA stands by its figures, which are real, not hypothetical and are derived from actual hardware and software performance data from actual flight tests,” the statement says.

“Dr. Postol’s calculations are overly optimistic and do not accurately reflect detection, tracking and fire control solution times, acceleration profiles from our flight tests, with actual payload weights and propellant performance; minimal delta velocities required to destroy the targets; and what we know about Russian Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs).”

In a Sept. 12 interview, U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Henry “Trey” Obering, the MDA’s director, called Postol’s calculations “flat wrong,” and said


may have been based

on capability projections from five to eight years ago.