WASHINGTON (AP) -- A planned April test of the National Missile Defense system has been pushed back until late June, raising doubts about whether President Clinton will be in office long enough to decide whether to deploy the multibillion-dollar system.
The test, originally scheduled for April 27, instead will be held June 26, Defense Department officials said Tuesday.
Defense Secretary William Cohen had planned to review the readiness of the missile defense project in June. On the basis of that review, Cohen would have recommended to the president whether to move ahead with deployment.
The system would use a network of radars and silo-based interceptor missiles to detect, track and shoot down long-range ballistic missiles outside the Earth's atmosphere.
Congress has directed the administration to deploy such a system as soon as technology allows.
Pentagon officials have proposed locating the system in Alaska. The military has said that Fort Greely near Delta Junction appears to be the best location.
If the missile base were built at Greely, around 250 military personnel -- most from the Alaska National Guard -- and contract workers would be located there, said Lt. Gen. John Costello, chief of the Army's space missile defense command, during a speech earlier this month in Anchorage.
Construction costs are estimated to run more than $500 million. Costello said construction on Shemya in the Aleutians could go more than $100 million.
North Dakota is the other location the Defense Department is studying, although officials believe an Alaska site would allow the missile defense system to cover the entire United States.
Two tests have been staged so far of the system's ability to intercept a target missile in space. The first was conducted last fall and it succeeded. The second was staged in January and it failed.
International political considerations also are hindering the installation of such a system.
Top Russian officials have objected to proposed changes in the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty to allow for a U.S. missile defense network.
On the Net: The Pentagon's Ballistic Missile Defense Organization: http://www.acq.osd.mil/bmdo/bmdolink/html/bmdolink.html.
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