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Missile Defense Capable, but Needs More Testing, Pentagon Official Says

By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 26, 2009 – U.S. missile defense is prepared to defend against North Korean threats, but the system needs more testing before the Pentagon can endorse its capabilities with “high confidence,” the top Defense Department tester said.

In three test scenarios, the missile defense system successfully destroyed threats emanating from North Korea, Dr. Charles E. McQueary, the director of Operational Test and Evaluation, told a congressional panel yesterday.

“What we showed as a consequence of the test was that, indeed, we did intercept and ‘kill’ a target to demonstrate that the [ground missile defense] did work in that particular [test],” he said. “To me, that was a demonstration that this system has the capability to work.”

But McQueary told the House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee, which oversees the missile defense program, that additional assessments are needed before he can confirm a high level of statistical confidence in the system.

“There's simply not been enough testing done in order to be able to state it,” he said. The test and evaluation office that McQueary directs provides the Defense Department with independent reviews of weapons and equipment.

The hearing comes amid reports suggesting that North Korea may be preparing an advanced version of the Taepodong-2 missile with a striking range extending to the U.S. West Coast and Alaska.

Despite the need for more evaluation, McQueary said, the United States is prepared to respond to a potential threat from the communist regime.

“We've consistently said that we need more modeling and simulation,” he said. “[But] if the North Koreans launched an attack against us this afternoon, we wouldn't say we need more test data before we decided whether we were going to launch against and try to intercept that. We'd see how the system works and we'd find out.”

The ground-based system is a network of interceptor missiles linked by satellites, radar and communications networks. It has destroyed targets successfully in eight of 13 tests since 1999, according to Defense Department statistics.

Army Lt. Gen. Patrick J. O'Reilly, director of the Missile Defense Agency, told the subcommittee that the agency has launched a comprehensive review of its testing plans and would complete it by May. He noted that missile defense functions as a deterrent to potential adversaries.

“The most compelling way to devalue these missiles is to show that they're ineffective because we keep intercepting them in different ways,” he said. “A great strength of a robust test program is to keep intercepting in all the different fashions in which I believe our adversaries are looking at ways to defeat it.”

Contact Author

Dr. Charles E. McQueary
Army Lt. Gen. Patrick J. O'Reilly

Related Sites:
Transcript: Congressional Testimony
House Armed Services Committee

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