Missile Technology Tops Cohen's En Route Agenda
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
ELMENDORF AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska, July 11, 2000 Missile technology was the hot topic July 10 aboard Defense Secretary William S. Cohen's Air Force jet bound for China.
Reporters asked the secretary what comes next for the National Missile Defense System in the wake of the July 8 failed flight test. Cohen said he would withhold judgment on whether to recommend deploying the system until he has all the facts.
The prototype interceptor was launched from Kwajalein Atoll in the Pacific to hit an incoming target warhead from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. Program officials said the prototype's second-stage booster apparently didn't signal the end of its fuel burn. As a result, the third-stage kill vehicle, the "bullet" intended to hit and destroy the target, shut down and never attempted interception.
The test was a disappointment, one that obviously has focused attention on the technology issue, Cohen said. But the failure, he stressed, didn't occur in the most sophisticated elements of the system. The test failed because two rocket stages didn't separate.
"That's something that's not fatal to the program, so I would reserve the judgment until I get all the way through the analysis," he said.
Defense officials plan to conduct another dozen or more tests before any NMD system would be deployed. The secretary said he plans to make his deployment review recommendation to the president in the next three to four weeks so radar site construction can be scheduled. Cohen said he plans to confer with the experts in the field on what they conclude is feasible based on the tests to date.
While this was the fifth test of the system, it was only the third intercept attempted. The first succeeded; the second failed due to a faulty sensor.
"It would have been desirable to have two successful intercepts, but it doesn't mean that the technology is not there yet," Cohen said. "I still could make a recommendation, I just have to wait, sit down and review all of the information."
The National Missile Defense System is designed to protect the United States from a limited intercontinental ballistic missile attack. It would consist of integrated ground-based interceptors; command, control and communication systems; X-band radars and upgraded early warning radars. The 20-year life cycle cost of the system is estimated at $38 billion.
Cohen said he expected missile defense would be on the agenda in Beijing since Chinese leaders oppose U.S. plans to deploy theater and national systems. He said he planned to stress that the proliferation of missile technology continues to pose an evolving threat to U.S. security and that the United States will continue developing both systems.
The administration wants to develop these systems within the context of the ABM Treaty to the extent that the treaty can be modified to accommodate it, he said.
"As long as the threats continue to exist, we're going to have to have defenses against them," he said. "We will always depend up deterrence. That will be our very first line of defense. We will send a signal to every country that should they ever launch a missile at the United States, they would experience very serious consequences as a result."
Using Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's aggression as an example, Cohen said U.S. leaders would never want to be in a position of being blackmailed or prevented from protecting U.S. security interests in a conventional way.
"That's not to suggest that we would be dissuaded from taking action to protect vital national interests," he added. "But it certainly may cause a different calculation on the part of our allies. I don't want to see the United States or our allies being put in that position."
Generally speaking, Cohen said, the United States is concerned about the transfer of technology to Iran and other Middle East countries. He said Pakistan continues to acquire technology that could contribute to increasing tensions on the Indian subcontinent.
"Basically, what we're trying to do is restrict the dissemination of this kind of technology to any other countries," he said.
Cohen said he would follow-up what the State Department has already indicated to the Chinese: "We need to curb the proliferation of missile technology. China has agreed to the principles. They haven't signed the missile technology control regime, but they have agreed to abide by it, as such."
During earlier visits to China, Cohen said he raised U.S. concerns about the transfer of anti-ship cruise missile technology to Iran. "They have abided by the agreement they made the last time I was here as far as the shipment of cruise missiles to the Iranians," he said.
"They also agreed to suspend the transfer of nuclear technology to the Iranians. So I will continue to raise those issues and see if we can't get continued cooperation."