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Missile Defense System Works, Gates Says

By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service

EN ROUTE TO CANBERRA, Australia, Feb. 21, 2008 – The Navy’s outer-atmosphere blasting of an ailing U.S. spy satellite this week proves that the nation’s missile defense systems work, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said today.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates talks to members of the press after touring the USS Russell in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, Feb. 21, 2008. Defense Dept. photo by U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jerry Morrison

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

“I think, actually, the question of whether this capability works has been settled. The question is: Against what kind of a threat (do we employ the technology)? How large a threat? How sophisticated a threat?” Gates said during a meeting with press after a tour of the Navy’s USS Russell, used as back-up for the shootdown.

Gates toured the destroyer at U.S. Naval Station Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, during a stop on his way to Canberra, Australia, for the Australia-United States Ministerial Consultations.

Gates said there have been several successful attempts of the defense system, and the fact that it works also is validated by Congress’ continued funding of the program for the past several years. In its beginnings, the program struggled for funding, and that is what many people remember about missile defense, he said.

“I think that people remember a time some years ago when missile defense was extremely controversial and a lot of people questioned whether it would work or not, and there was always a struggle in the Congress to get money for missile defense,” Gates said in an interview with media traveling with him. “One of the significant changes that has taken place in Washington over the past few years has been a general recognition that the development of the system has proceeded, that it does have capability, and that it is increasingly sophisticated in terms of the kind of challenges that it may be able to beat -- although it still (is) very much designed for a very limited kind of threat.”

While Congress and other leaders likely were aware of the missile defense system’s capabilities, the general public still was not, Gates said. He said that a side benefit of the satellite shootdown was that the American public got to see a demonstration of the missile defense capabilities.

“Completely a side benefit of yesterday’s action was to underscore the money that the Congress has been voting for this has resulted in a very real capability,” Gates said. “I think the issue of whether it will work is behind us, and we just need to keep improving this capability.”

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Robert M. Gates

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