Senate wants review of defense testing program

Posted: Tuesday, May 27, 2003

FAIRBANKS (AP) The Senate has reinstated some of the internal review requirements for missile defense testing eliminated by the Pentagon more than a year ago.

Senate lawmakers passed a bill Friday with additional provisions in its version of the National Defense Authorization Act for 2004. The bill now goes to a House-Senate conference committee, where the fate of the missile defense language is uncertain.

Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., sponsored the Senate amendment that reinstates the review requirements, according to the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.

''I believe Congress should know the capabilities of any missile defense system that is deployed and that these capabilities should be subject to rigorous testing,'' Reed said last week.

The military has built six silos at Fort Greely, 100 miles southeast of Fairbanks, to house missile interceptors. Another 10 are planned by 2004 and the military recently completed a document that allows up to 40 to be placed there.

Initially, the interceptors were for testing purposes only, but President Bush in December decided that the United States should field a working missile defense system.

Reed's amendment calls for the Missile Defense Agency to establish measurable performance criteria for missile defense systems. The agency would also be required to create operational test plans that estimate when the performance criteria will be met.

Finally, the Pentagon's director of Operational Test and Evaluation would be required to perform an annual assessment of the progress being made in meeting the performance criteria.

In January 2002, when the Pentagon reorganized the Missile Defense Agency, it eliminated similar internal requirements for missile defense testing.

Reed's amendment also would require the Pentagon to submit all the information to Congress in an unclassified form so it will be available to the public. The military could ''include a classified annex as necessary,'' the amendment states.

Critics of the system, including Reed, have said that it is nowhere near to being functional in the real world. Many doubt that it can ever be effective given the remaining technical challenges.

Supporters say that the military has successfully hit mock enemy missiles in a majority of tests to date. The military maintains that the technical challenges are surmountable.

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