WASHINGTON - Erecting a missile defense system to give the nation limited protection from ballistic missile attacks would cost nearly $60 billion through the year 2015, according to a congressional report published Tuesday.
The Congressional Budget Office said that if successfully engaged, a national defense system would defend the entire country against dozens of missiles.
It cautioned, however, that many believe that even a country just developing long-range missiles could easily render a missile defense system impotent.
Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J. said the report "confirms my fears that we are rushing into a decision on national missile defense without knowing everything we should about the financial, technological and diplomatic implications."
But Rep. Curt Weldon, R-Pa., a leading proponent of missile defense, said there was "no way" it would cost $60 billion. He said that while "you can't put a price tag on protecting American cities," the CBO estimate was "totally out of line, out of sync with anything I've seen."
The Clinton administration, pressured by Republicans in Congress who say the country is dangerously vulnerable to missile attack from rogue nations, has conditionally agreed to a limited missile-defense system.
The president is expected to decide this fall whether to go ahead with plans to have the system operating by a target date of 2005. The Pentagon will recommend a course of action to the president after another test of the system in June.
Beyond several testing failures and the costs - the administration is seeking $1.9 billion in the 2001 budget - a national missile defense is strongly opposed by Russia and China.
Russia says the system would violate the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, and President Vladimir Putin has warned that deployment could jeopardize Russian adherence to other arms-reduction treaties. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Monday that a U.S. missile defense system could lead to a new arms race.
According to the nonpartisan CBO, building the first phase of a national missile defense would cost $29.5 billion, $3.9 billion more than the administration has estimated.
The first phase would include locating 100 interceptors in central Alaska, constructing a high-resolution X-band radar and upgrading several early-warning radars.
The second phase, to be deployed by 2010 under current plans, would use satellites that could track not only powered-flight missiles but also those gliding through space. The third phase would add 150 interceptors, some at a second site now planned for Grand Forks, N.D.
The administration has not yet estimated the cost of the last two phases. The CBO said the second phase would cost an additional $6.1 billion, and the third phase $13.3 billion through 2015.