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Night Cloud? Ground-Based Missile Test Over The Pacific

by AP Sunday, Mar. 17, 2002 at 12:43 AM

Did you see that weird cloud lit up in the night sky over Southern California Friday evening? It wasn't a bird or a plane, it was Uncle Sam.

Associated Press

03/16/2002 12:02 AM EST

By MATT KELLEY

An interceptor rocket smashed into a dummy warhead 140 miles over the Pacific on Friday

night in the fourth successful test of its kind, a Pentagon spokeswoman said.

The interceptor, launched from a tiny Pacific island near the equator, destroyed the dummy

warhead at 9:41 p.m. EST, Pentagon spokeswoman Cheryl Irwin said.

The test was the sixth of a prototype of a ground-based missile defense system. The

interceptor successfully destroyed the dummy warhead in three of the previous five tests,

including the most recent one in December. The military is also developing ship-based and

other types of anti-missile systems.

The military launched the target missile from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California at 9:11

p.m. EST, Irwin said. The interceptor took off 4,800 miles away from Meck Island in Kwajalein

Atoll at 9:32 p.m. and collided with the dummy warhead in space nine minutes later, she said.

Friday's test was the most complex of its kind so far, although it was still a developmental

test, not an operational one. The dummy missile jettisoned three balloons to try to fool the

interceptor. The most recent test included only one decoy balloon.

The interceptor used its own sensors to pick out the warhead, track it and move in to collide

with and destroy it, a Pentagon statement said.

The Bush administration is pressing ahead with development of the anti-missile systems,

saying the United States needs a defense if a rogue country like North Korea develops and

fires long-range missiles at American shores.

President Bush announced last year he was pulling the United States out of the 1972

Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty, which bans such missile defenses. Russia and some other

countries have criticized the move.

Domestic missile defense critics say the program is too costly and too easily defeated with

simple countermeasures or by firing a larger number of missiles.

Designing, testing and building a system of land- and sea-based missile defenses would cost

between billion and billion by 2015, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office

estimated earlier this year.

Critics say long-range missiles are much less of a threat to the United States than terrorist

attacks with chemical, biological or nuclear weapons built in or smuggled into the country.

"This is kind of a sideshow that doesn't have any basis in real threats," said Chris Madison of

the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation.

Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz told Congress last month that the Pentagon hoped

to have four prototype anti-missile rockets stationed in Alaska in two years.

That would happen before operational tests, which will use the most realistic scenarios. The

Missile Defense Agency hopes to shift to tests over the North Pacific after 2004 for its more

realistic tests, agency spokesman Lt. Col. Rick Lehner said.

"Our job is to develop the hardware necessary if we are directed to build" a missile defense

system, Lehner said.

The full set of tests won't be finished until 2006 or 2007. The Pentagon hopes to test the

ground-based system every three months until it's ready, Lehner said.

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