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Briefing on Test of Planned U.S. National Missile Defense System

Aired July 7, 2000 - 5:59 p.m. ET


JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Judy Woodruff in Washington.

We are going to take you now directly to a news briefing at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, where preparations are under way for the test of a planned U.S. national missile defense system. The gentlemen your listening to is Keith Englander, technical director of the National Missile Defense Joint Program Office.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS) QUESTION: ... same arc as the two previous tests?

KEITH ENGLANDER, NATIONAL MISSILE DEFENSE JOINT PROGRAM: Well, the essence is that we're trying to demonstrate in this test the functionality of the system. And knowing ahead of time what the trajectory is allows us to understand what the truth data is, and where it's going so we can compare truth data to what we actually measure in this system. And as we move along, we'll be changing those variables as we get into later and later tests.

Next question?

QUESTION: As you (inaudible) the tests in the final ground check out in the last couple days, any problems with the IR-seeker or any issues with the target payload?


ENGLANDER: No, none. No, all the issues have been put to bed for the flight test.

Yes, sir?

QUESTION: In the different fact sheets on the press conference at the Pentagon a couple weeks ago it was said this is a more demanding test than IFT-4, IFT-3. My understanding, the only thing that's really different is that you're going to use the new prototype communication system to uplink targeting information. What else is actually different? Is it an incremental difference or is it an actual major difference between IFT-4 and IFT-5?

ENGLANDER: Essentially, it is the incremental difference of putting the in-flight interceptor communications system to do the last two uplinks in which that'll actually guide the EKV to the target. So it's the endgame that's -- or the communication that's changing for this flight test.

Yes, sir?

QUESTION: Does your weather remain favorable for a launch on schedule tonight, and what effect, if any, would a ship sailing into the restricted zone down range have on launching the test on schedule?

ENGLANDER: The weather remains good for the launch window. As far as the -- any ship coming into the area, you'll have to ask the Vandenberg public affairs officer about that. He's handling that area.


QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) and then the timeline as far as what's supposed to happen and when?

ENGLANDER: What we're doing at this end is going through the -- essentially the target -- on the Vandenberg side is flipping the batteries, getting it powered up. Out at Kwajalein, it's a similar checklist to make sure that everything and all the instrumentation is working properly.

And then, as far as the flight test, the target is launched about 10 minutes ahead of the interceptor, which then goes out at Kwaj, and then you get the intercept.

QUESTION: At what point do they blow up? Does that occur? (OFF- MIKE) the kill is being launched from 4,000 miles away?

ENGLANDER: It's about 600 kilometers north of Kwajalein is where the intercept will occur at about 200 kilometers altitude.

That's where they'll collide. North of Kwajalein.

QUESTION: How long will it take before...


ENGLANDER: We'll know --essentially, we have it down to we know where it should hit and the timing of it, and then from the instrumentation or truth data that we get we'll know whether or not we got the indications of a hit or not. And then it'll just be a look at the post-data to see what functionality was actually accomplished during the whole test.


QUESTION: Your test -- I believe 19 scheduled tests, correct? -- want to test incrementally certain systems. And in that regard, they've been criticized as not being real-world tests. In terms of what you're testing on this particular launch, how close is that to the big picture, a real-world scenario? ENGLANDER: The scenario, as I mentioned earlier, does represent, in what we call our design two scenario, at least one possibility, one type of scenario. As far as the elements, they are prototypical, they are representative, the radar out at Kwajalein, the GBRP, is a representation of the about X-band radar, just at shorter range, but it's the same type of radar. The radar that's going to be used on the West Coast for the initial tracking is typical of the upgrade early warning radar that we use. The kill vehicle is very close to the tactical representation. The booster that we're using out at Kwajalein is a prototype; it is not the tactical booster, but that would come in later tests.

So as we move down all through these next series of tests we're going to be incrementally be upgrading the software that would be used in the tactical system, the tactical booster itself, and actually changing some of the targets as we move down to IOC, or when the system is operational.


QUESTION: At what point do you start -- they say some of the these countries like Korea can put up a missile with multiple warheads and multiple decoys. At what point do you start putting up missiles with multiple warheads and multiple decoys?

ENGLANDER: That's something that we would have to look at in the future for the flight tests, and that's something that we would have to get out of the intelligence community as to the probability that they would actually do that.


QUESTION: Is there any indication that any of these states of concern actually have the technology to launch a missile to the United States?

ENGLANDER: That's something you'll have to ask the intelligence community.


QUESTION: The intercepting missile, is it automatically launched by detection of the one that's being launched from here, or is there somebody on the other side with a radar that indicates that a missile's coming and then that person launches it? How does that end of it work?

ENGLANDER: What happens is that there's a detection of the missile launch at the Vandenberg end by satellite. It cues the system, which then sends a message down-range through what we call the BMCCC, or battle management command and control system, and that activates the readiness for the interceptor to be launched. It loads in the data that the missile system and the radar see.

QUESTION: So there's no human interaction at that point? WOODRUFF: Keith Englander, who is the technical director for the National Defense Missile Joint Program, describing how in this next few hours there will be a missile set up from the so-called Kwajalein Atoll in the Pacific, aiming at a missile that will be fired 10 minutes before that from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

Let's go now to the Pentagon, to CNN's military affairs correspondent Jamie McIntyre.

Jamie, how important is this test today to U.S. plans to go ahead with the missile defense system?

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN MILITARY AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's an important test because so far the United States has had one hit and one miss, and although you couldn't tell it from the low-key presentation there from one of the project technical managers, Keith Englander, they're pretty optimistic that tonight they're going to go ahead and hit this target in a fairly controlled test, because the last miss was caused by really a fluke bleak in the cooling system that they're pretty sure that they've corrected, and they think, they're are crossing their fingers they'll hit tonight.

Now that will create some pressure on President Clinton, who is under appreciate from conservatives in Congress to move ahead quickly with building a national missile defense system. So if there is a hit, that will certainly add some momentum to that. However, there are 16 more tests and there are still lots of technical problems to be solved. And at this point, the president will have to take into account all the factors involved, not just the technical feasibility, but also the cost, which is at least $30 billion, perhaps as much as $60 billion dollars for this system, and the threat from other countries like North Korea, which now says it suspended it's missile program, even though it tested a longer-range missile years ago, and also the effect on international arms control agreements and relations the United States has not just with Russian and China, but it's own allies, who are against the deployment of a system like this at this time. So the president will wrap that all of those factors up in the fall and decide whether he wants to start building that system now or leave that decision to the next president who takes office after January 20 -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right, CNN's Jamie McIntyre at the Pentagon, as the moment grows closer for this attempt to kill a missile by another missile, and CNN will, of course, report the results just as soon as they are available.

"WORLDVIEW" coming up next.



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