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CNN Today

Pentagon to Conduct Second Test of Controversial Ballistic Missile Technology

Aired January 18, 2000 - 1:06 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: The Pentagon tonight will conduct a second test of new ballistic missile technology. Supporters hope to create a limited defense system that could seek and destroy missiles aimed at the United States. There's a lot at stake.

CNN military affairs correspondent Jamie McIntyre now joins us with more on this -- Jamie.

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN MILITARY AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Lou, this is one tough technological problem for the Pentagon. This is the second test they're going to try now; they had a hit the first time. Once again, they'll be launching a target missile from the U.S. Air Force Base at Vandenberg in California, and they will try to shoot it down with an interceptor missile launched from the Quadralina (ph) Toll in the Pacific Ocean. This is, again, the second test of this technology in what will become an ever-increasingly-complex series of tests to try to see if you can actually knock a missile out of the sky, 120 to 140 miles into space at a closing speed of 16,000 miles per hour.

The one previous test took place October 2nd of last year. That was a little bit simpler test because they had pre-loaded some of the navigational information into the interceptor missile, so it had a general idea of where to go. But once it got into space, then the sensors on board the kill vehicle were able to locate the warhead and destroy it. There was one decoy deployed at the time to try to simulate some kind of measures that might be taken by an enemy. Again, this time there'll be a decoy, but in future tests there will be multiple decoys, and it'll get more and more sophisticated.

Now, President Clinton needs to decide by sometime this summer about whether to go ahead with deployment of what will be a very expensive limited national missile defense program, because they need to be able to start construction on one of the sites in Alaska if they're going to be able to deploy it by the goal of about 2005. It's much more complicated than that, because all of this is also embroiled in the antiballistic missile treaty that the United States is trying to renegotiate with the Russians. Then there's the cost factors, and, of course, there's still a question of whether it will work -- Lou.

WATERS: And the significance of this test, Jamie, in the context of the presidential election campaign when already the debate is centering on a missile defense system and the defense priorities for the country.

MCINTYRE: Well, I think there's general agreement that the United States wants to proceed with some kind of missile defense, but there's a great debate about how fast and how to approach the situation with the Russians. And that's going to be one of the issues debated over the campaign season. Of course, there are also critics who say that these tests just aren't really representative of what -- what these missile systems would -- how they would work in real life and that the U.S. ought not to waste the money on them. So, it's going to be an issue around for quite some time -- Lou.

WATERS: Yes. We'll be watching.

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