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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A pair of physicists who are missile-defense critics have dismissed as all but useless a Raytheon Co radar system proposed for the Czech Republic as part of a U.S. shield against feared missiles from Iran.
The initial version of the European Mid-course Radar, or EMR, "possesses such limited range that it won't play any useful role in the operation of European missile defense," said George Lewis of Cornell University and Theodore Postol of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Writing in the May/June Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, they asserted the Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency, or MDA, has "oversold" the radar and the rest of the planned shield, possibly to commit the United States to a course that will be hard to reverse.
Richard Lehner, a spokesman for the agency, dismissed their criticism as unfounded.
"The radar proposed for placement in the Czech Republic has more than enough power for its role and has supported missile defense tests in the Pacific for nearly a decade over greater distances than will be required in Europe," he said in an e-mailed response.
Raytheon said Tuesday it had been awarded a contract with a potential value of $400 million to start planning to shift an existing X-band tracking radar, that would become the EMR, to the Czech Republic from the Marshall Islands in the central Pacific.
The EMR would help guide 10 ground-based missiles the United States hopes to deploy in neighboring Poland and expand U.S. defenses against "limited Iranian long-range threats," Air Force Lt. Gen. Henry Obering, director of missile defense, told a congressional hearing last week.
It would be upgraded with improved data processing capability, communications gear and software, Lehner said. EMR is due to be deployed at a site southwest of Prague by 2013.
"Neither of the gentlemen involved in the analysis have access to detailed and likely classified missile defense technical data so I assume they are simply expressing an opinion regarding what they think they know," he added.
Postol, in a follow-up interview, said the MDA apparently was assuming a warhead's radar cross-section would be as big as one square meter, making it easy for the EMR to detect it at the expected range of an Iranian attack scenario.
But, he said, over the large majority of viewing angles, the cone-shaped warhead's radar cross section would be minuscule, perhaps only one one-hundredth of a square meter or less, because of the way signals would be reflected away from the illuminating radar.
"It's hands-down unambiguous," Postol, who once served as scientific advisor to the chief of U.S. naval operations, said by telephone. "No ambiguity whatsoever that this radar will not perform as advertised."
"Either the whole leadership of the Missile Defense Agency should be fired because they're technically incompetent or they should be fired because they're lying to the Congress and the American people," he added.
Raytheon referred a request for comment to MDA.
Earlier this week, Boeing Co, which heads an industry team that would put the 10 interceptor missiles in silos in Poland, derided Postol for a guest column he published April 15 in the Boston Globe newspaper.
"While Postol's op-ed might fit nicely in a science fiction novel, it doesn't fit reality," Scott Fancher, Boeing's chief executive for missile defense, said in a letter to the editor.
Raytheon said Tuesday that it planned to maximize Czech industry participation in the development of the EMR site. The United States has proposed a range of measures to allay Russian objections to the proposed European sites.
Reporting by Jim Wolf; Editing by Tim Dobbyn