- WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The
United States on Saturday failed to hit and destroy a target warhead in
space with an anti-missile weapon in a $100 million test of a proposed
National Missile Defense system, the Defense Department said.
- ``We did not intercept the warhead tonight. We are disappointed,''
Air Force Lt. Gen. Ronald Kadish, director of the missile defense effort,
told reporters at the Pentagon.
- It was the second failure in three tries for the system
and is expected to weigh heavily in a decision planned by President Clinton
in coming months on whether to begin building an Alaskan radar for a limited
missile defense next year, over bitter objections from Russia and China.
- Kadish said a "hit-to-kill'' weapon fired from Kwajalein
Atoll in the central Pacific did not separate from the second stage of
its liftoff rocket and did not get a chance to intercept a warhead launched
about 20 minutes earlier from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, 4,300
- "It tells me we have more engineering work to do,''
he said. ``We had good confidence in this ... This is rocket science --
things do happen,'' he said.
- The weapon, with a successful intercept last October
and a test failure in January of this year, was launched from Kwajalein
at 12:40 a.m. EDT (0440 GMT). It was supposed to intercept and smash into
the warhead about 10 minutes later in space at a speed of 15,000 mph.
- The failure was a disappointment for Boeing Co., which
is coordinating the intricate ``NMD'' system of weapons, radars and communications,
and for Raytheon Corp., which builds the prototype 121-pound ``hit-to-kill''
- Clinton is caught between bitter opposition from Moscow
and Beijing, who fear that a mature and successful U.S. anti-missile system
could neutralize their nuclear arsenals, and pressure from conservatives
in the U.S. Congress for quick deployment of limited protection against
threats from such states as North Korea, Iran and Iraq.
- A chorus of scientific critics have charged that the
three tests to date have been controlled and ``dumbed down'' to make the
target easier to hit than it would be in a real attack.
- Prominent scientists and former U.S. government officials
have also warned the president that the technology is so immature that
it would be folly to begin building a system that could cost anywhere from
$30 billion to $60 billion.
- Although Friday's test result will affect Clinton's decision
whether to begin building a base in Alaska next year, it was not a life-or-death
event for NMD. Another 16 ``hit-to-kill'' tests are scheduled in the next
five years, each more demanding on the high-tech equipment than the previous
- After detailed technical data from Saturday's test is
analyzed by the Pentagon, Boeing and Raytheon, Defense Secretary William
Cohen is currently scheduled to send a recommendation to Clinton in coming
weeks on NMD's immediate future.
- The Cohen report will be based chiefly on the state of
current technology and projected cost of a system of 20 interceptors in
Alaska in 2005, swelling to 100 interceptors in later years.
- But Clinton says his decision will also consider a pending
detailed intelligence analysis of the threat from emerging potential enemies
such as North Korea as well as U.S. ties with its European allies, China
- Europe fears that nuclear arms control could unravel
and a new arms race begin if the United States breaks the 1972 Anti-Ballistic
Missile (ABM) Treaty by building even a limited system.
- White House spokesman P.J. Crowley cautioned reporters
on Friday even before the test that the results would not automatically
signal Clinton's decision.
- And despite calls by scientific critics and former U.S.
government officials for the president to pass any NMD decision off to
his successor, who will be elected in November and take office next January,
Crowley said ``the election is not a factor in the president's decision-making
- Clinton is expected to decide by November at least whether
to issue contracts for pouring concrete on wind-swept Shemya Island off
Alaska, where a powerful new X-Band radar guidance system for the first
phase of NMD would be built. Anti-missile weapons would be based elsewhere
- The Defense Department says that because of extremely
harsh winter conditions on the island, barges must begin ferrying equipment
there next spring if the radar is to be completed by 2005.
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