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Independent Assessment Says Missile Defense on Track

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 22, 2000 – The proposed limited National Missile Defense system "is on track to achieve the earliest capability to meet the defined limited threat," an independent assessment team said.

The report, written by retired Air Force Gen. Larry D. Welch of the Institute for Defense Analyses, bolsters DoD's choice of technology to meet an ICBM threat from a rogue state. The report stated it is appropriate and technically feasible. The Ballistic Missile Defense Office will conduct another test of the system July 7.

Defense Secretary William S. Cohen will use the results of this test -- and the results of previous tests -- to make a recommendation to President Clinton about the feasibility of the system, which is estimated to cost $14 billion. President Clinton will make a decision on whether to go ahead with the program in the fall.

The team recommended DoD expand the test envelope and do more research on discriminating warheads from decoys. The unclassified version of the team's report deemed deployment "high risk" but saw no reason to change the current schedule. The team agreed the proposed system would counter the threat of rogue state ICBMs.

Jacques Gansler, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, described how the system would work. "It begins with the space-based warning system, the system that picks up the fact that a booster has been launched," Gansler said. The Defense Support Program satellites are already in place and being used to detect launches worldwide.

When the satellite detects a launch it will pass the information on, through the command and control system, to early warning radars. Again, these are already in place. "These then will track the targets as they come toward us, doing some preliminary track information so that we can determine where it's going, and it can give us information for the intercept," Gansler said.

The information will then be transferred to an X-band radar. This must be built as part of NMD. To protect the United States, the radar must be built on Shemya Island, at the end of the Aleutian Island chain in Alaska. These radars do an excellent job of discrimination, Gansler said. "This is primarily where you start to sort out the decoys and the warhead, or multiple warheads, if you have them," he said.

This is when U.S. officials would launch the interceptors. "This has two pieces; it has the booster, and it has the ... kill vehicle," he said. There are no explosives in the kill vehicle, which weighs about 130 pounds. To kill an approaching warhead, the vehicle uses visual and infrared sensors to collide with the reentry vehicle. With a closing speed of 17,000 miles per hour, the collision "ionizes" both the kill vehicle and the warhead. To be effective, the kill vehicle has to hit an area the size of a breadbox.

"The key to this whole system working is the battle management system that integrates all of this -- the multiple sensors and the discrimination capability," he said. The center is at Colorado Springs, Colo., and will have the capability to send course corrections to the interceptor in flight.

Gansler said if an incoming warhead is detected, more than likely officials would fire more than one interceptor at it. The mid-course phase interceptor gives officials the time and opportunity to do this. Other systems -- the boost phase and the terminal phase -- give officials one shot and that's it.

Intelligence officials estimate rogue states could possess ICBM technology coupled with weapons of mass destruction by 2005. Other anti-missile defenses would not be ready to deploy by then. If the president decides to go forward with the NMD program, the radars and 20 interceptor missiles could defend the United States by fiscal 2005.

Gansler and BMDO director Air Force Lt. Gen. Ronald Kadish see the program evolving after initial operating capability. The program could add other detection means and build up to 100 interceptor missiles.

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Related Sites:
DoD News Briefing: Special Briefing Regarding the National Missile Defense Program, June 20, 2000


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