Reliability of anti-missile system questioned

Posted: Thursday, August 16, 2001

WASHINGTON -- The head of the Pentagon's missile defense programs said Wednesday he is not fully confident in the ''basic functionality'' of the anti-missile system that successfully intercepted a mock warhead in space last month.

That is why the next test of the system, scheduled for October, will be a replay of the July 14 test, with no additional complexities such as putting more decoys aboard the target missile, Air Force Lt. Gen. Ronald Kadish, director of the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization, told a group of reporters.

The anti-missile system he referred to is called a ground-based interceptor. It is designed to destroy an intercontinental-range ballistic missile during the mid-course of flight, before its warheads re-enter the Earth's atmosphere. It is one of several missile defense approaches the Pentagon is researching and, of those designed to hit long-range missiles, it is the most technically advanced.

Kadish said he was pleased with the July test, in which the interceptor, using what is called ''hit-to-kill'' technology, destroyed the target missile 144 miles above the Pa-cific by steering into the missile's path and colliding at a combined speed of 4.6 miles per second.

''It is still not totally comfortable for me to say that we can make the hit-to-kill technology work consistently, even in that simple scenario,'' Kadish said, adding later, ''We still need some more reliability in there.''

The intercept was the second in four tries. The first success, in 1999, was followed by two failures, the second of which led to former President Clinton's decision last summer not to go ahead with deployment of the system.

The Pentagon at some point will make the intercept tests more challenging, and Kadish had said immediately after the successful July test that the next one might include more decoys, which release from a missile's re-entry vehicle while traveling through space to try to fool the interceptor.

He said Wednesday that the additional complexities probably will not be included until 2002.

Kadish said he is not worried about the interceptor's ability to distinguish between a decoy and the real warhead.

''I am worried that we have the reliability we need in his system's basic functionality,'' he said.

He noted that the July test was the first to use an in-flight communications system aboard the interceptor, a technology which allows the interceptor to receive navigation data from ground-based radars.

''We need a little bit more comfort there,'' he said.


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