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U.S. missile defense undergoes new tests

missile defense
 

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Pentagon conducted two more tests of the National Missile Defense system over the Pacific Ocean early Thursday.

One of the tests involved the system's ability to tell warheads from decoys, but neither included the interception of incoming missiles.

The Pentagon said the results of the tests have not yet been evaluated.

The NMD system, which is opposed by Russia and China as possibly in violation of arms treaties, failed to intercept missiles in two previous tests. President Clinton subsequently declined to give the system's deployment the go-ahead, effectively leaving the decision to his successor.

 INTERACTIVE
 
  MESSAGE BOARD
 

In the first of Thursday's tests, two Air Force Minuteman-3 missiles were fired from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California toward Kwajalein island in the Pacific.

The missiles released 20 different-shaped objects into space to test the ability of a prototype radar on Kwajalein to find real warheads in a missile attack, Pentagon spokesman Ken Bacon said.

The second flight tested electronic components that will be used early next year in an attempt to hit a dummy warhead in space with a weapon fired from Kwajalein.

Missile chief says system will work

The NMD system is designed to protect the United States against ballistic missile attacks from rogue nations. It is projected to cost anywhere from $25 billion to $60 billion.

A $100 million U.S. test of the system in July failed when a U.S. "hit-to-kill" weapon did not separate from its booster rocket and intercept a dummy warhead over the Pacific Ocean.

An October 1999 test was successful but one the previous January failed.

U.S. Secretary of Defense William Cohen supported the system's deployment, and the Air Force's missile defense chief, in testimony on Capitol Hill after Clinton's announcement, said there was no technical reason it would not work.

Lt. Gen. Ronald Kadish, director of the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization, told a House of Representatives subcommittee that 93 percent of the system's "critical engagement functions" have been proven to work properly.

Thursday's radar test addressed one criticism of the system: its possible inability to cope with decoys and other countermeasures hostile nations might use to overcome U.S. missile defenses.

In his appearance before the House Government Reform subcommittee, Kadish said the NMD could deal with decoys.

"Given our extensive toolbox and the 40 years of experience the United States has with offensive and defensive weapons systems, we know how to play the countermeasures/counter-countermeasures game," Kadish said, "and we know how to win."

The U.S. has been developing a missile defense system since the early 1980s.

Ronald Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative, which became commonly known as the "Star Wars" program, called for a shield of lasers to knock thousands of enemy missiles out of the sky.

The system presently being developed would target individual warheads and shoot them down at high altitudes.

CNN Pentagon Correspondent Jamie McIntyre and Reuters contributed to this report.



RELATED STORIES:
House panel can't agree on missile defense
September 8, 2000
Clinton leaving missile defense to next president
September 1, 2000
U.S. defense missile shield could miss 2005 target date
August 8, 2000
British MPs question 'destabilizing' U.S. missile plan
August 2, 2000
Pentagon delays National Missile Defense test
July 31, 2000
$100 million test failure knocks missile shield program off fast track
July 8, 2000
After test fails, Russia again urges U.S. to drop missile shield proposal
July 8, 2000

RELATED SITES:
The U.S. Department of Defense
Ballistic Missile Defense Organization
National Missile Defense
Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty
Alliant Techsystems


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