U.S. MISSILE DEFENSE TEST TARGETED FOR
The Pentagon has set a July
7 target date for a decisive test of a national missile defense
system. A missile interceptor will try to collide in space with
a mock warhead over the central Pacific Ocean, officials said Tuesday.
The last such intercept attempt failed in January, although the
first try, last October, succeeded. An announcement of the date
for the twice-delayed flight test was to be made Tuesday by Jacques
Gansler, the Pentagon’s technology chief, and Air Force Lt. Gen.
Ronald Kadish, director of the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization,
which is running the missile defense project. Other officials disclosed
the date and said Kadish and Gansler would provide details on test
Although July 7 is the target date, the Pentagon might wait until
the early hours of July 8 if weather conditions require. The test
originally was planned for May, then was pushed back to late June
to correct problems related to the failure of the January attempted
intercept. A wiring problem caused the latest delay.
The Pentagon has come under fire recently by critics who believe
the concept of intercepting long-range missiles outside the Earth’s
atmosphere is flawed because an attacking nation could fool the
U.S. interceptor with decoys. The Pentagon acknowledges that decoys
are a long-term challenge but says the interceptors will be able
to overcome the kind of crude decoys likely to be encountered in
the short run.
A panel of independent experts raised a variety of concerns about
the program in a report to the Pentagon this month. The panel, headed
by retired Air Force Gen. Larry Welch, said it believed the Pentagon
might have to slow down the project but that the system eventually
could be made to work as envisioned.
The idea is to use a combination of powerful radars, ground-launched
missile interceptors based in Alaska, and high-speed computers to
protect all 50 U.S. states against an attack by 30 or fewer long-range
The outcome of the July test will be closely watched on both sides
of the intensifying debate over national missile defense. It likely
will determine whether Defense Secretary William Cohen recommends
to President Clinton that he give the go-ahead this fall to begin
constructing the main radar in the Aleutian Islands.
Other factors to be weighed by Clinton are the project’s cost,
the impact on arms control and an assessment of the threat facing
the United States of potential missile attacks by North Korea and
other hostile nations.
If the start of construction is delayed beyond 2001, the Defense
Department likely will not meet its goal of having the missile defense
network ready for use by the end of 2005. By that date, North Korea
may have a long-range missile capable of striking U.S. territory,
according to U.S. intelligence estimates.