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Missile Threats Growing as Nation Pursues Defense

By Douglas J. Gillert
American Forces Press Service

HUNTSVILLE, Ala., May 7, 1999 – Aug. 31, 1998: North Korea launches a multistage Taepodong-1 missile across Japan in an effort to place a satellite in orbit. The mission fails, but the United States and its allies are surprised and shocked by the missile's 2,000-kilometer range.

"The third stage concerns us. Nobody knew they had it," said David J. Osias, an officer of the Defense Intelligence Agency, during a national media update April 26-27 at the Army Space and Missile Defense Command headquarters here.

April 11, 1999: India successfully tests a ballistic missile with a range of at least 2,000 kilometers. Three days later, Pakistan responds with consecutive launches. The second missile has enough range to reach India's interior.

The United States is concerned about proliferation and technology transfer, particularly to rogue nations such as Iraq, Osias said. A late-1980s attempt by Iraq to launch multiple Scuds into space failed, but "Iraq has maintained skills and resources to reconstitute its space program," he said.

Other nations, including Syria, Iran and China, have the resources to build intercontinental ballistic missiles that could easily threaten U.S. troops abroad and U.S. citizens at home, Osias said. And an Aug. 4, 1998, report by the congressionally appointed Rumsfeld Commission said the ballistic missile threat is "broader, more mature and evolving more rapidly" than the U.S. intelligence community previously thought.

"Ballistic missiles have become a symbol of strength and prestige," said Vice Adm. Herbert A. Browne, deputy commander in chief of the U.S. Space Command. The U.S. objective should be to "prevent and reduce the threat, deter our enemies with a strong force and protect the homeland," he said. "There is a limited amount of time to ensure we do not have a ballistic missile impact in any of the 50 states."

"The National Missile Defense Program cannot afford to fail," Defense Secretary William S. Cohen said Jan. 20 in announcing the decision to begin its development. Since then, a score of DoD agencies and military organizations have formed the development team under the direction of the Joint Program Office of the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization.

While the merits of such a defensive system continue to be debated, the team has begun initial development phases and plans to be able to deploy a system by 2005. To date, they've completed two tests with space sensors that were able to detect complex target arrays and pick out re-entry vehicles, which would carry warheads. A flight scheduled for May 12 will test hit-to-kill ability.

"We need to concern ourselves with what we think the threat will be in the future," Browne said. He said planners must consider the increasing complexity of offensive systems that include multiple re-entry vehicles and more effective countermeasures.

Army Brig. Gen. Willie B. Nance, program manager, said the planned system will be built and tested in phases and includes six fundamental building blocks: a ground-based interceptor, ground-based radar, upgraded early warning radar, forward-based "X-band" radar, space-based infrared systems and battle management command, control and communications.

The Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty between the United States and Russia allows the United States to develop and test a ground- based defensive system. However, it does not allow relocation of the existing missile field and radar from North Dakota. Unfortunately, Nance said, the North Dakota site can protect every state except areas of Hawaii and Alaska. Moving the system to Alaska would fully cover all states, he said, but such a move would require amending or abandoning the treaty.

During the first three-quarters of fiscal 2000, DoD will test an integrated system end-to-end -- launching a defensive missile and "killing" a target, he said. If the tests succeed, DoD will ask the White House for a decision to deploy and to select a geographical site for the system.

Before reaching a decision to deploy, national leaders will reassess the threat and analyze cost and arms control objectives, Nance said. If national missile defense gets a green light, he said, site construction could begin in 2001.

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