Pentagon, Levin Dispute Missile Defense Success, Testing

Article excerpt

TOP PENTAGON OFFICIALS testifying in March on U.S. missile defense programs assured senators that the Pentagon intends to thoroughly test an anti-ballistic missile system to be fielded next year and never intended otherwise, despite concerns to the contrary voiced by long-time missile defense skeptic Senator Carl Levin (D-MI). Although having seemingly assuaged Levin's concerns, one official sparked a sharp exchange with the senator by claiming the system would have a 90 percent chance of shooting down a ballistic missile launched from North Korea next year.

Before Pentagon witnesses had a chance to speak at a March 18 Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, Levin assailed the Pentagon's fiscal year 2004 budget request for including a provision that he said would exempt the Pentagon from having to subject its ground-based midcourse missile defense system to testing that would be representative of a real-world situation, officially referred to as operational testing. (See ACT, March 2003.)

Fielding of the ground-based system, which is designed to launch interceptors into space to collide with enemy warheads, is set to begin next year with four missile interceptors at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, and six at Fort Greely, Alaska. Another ten interceptors are to be added at Fort Greely during 2005.

The Pentagon officials, led by Undersecretary of Defense Edward Aldridge, acknowledged the language in the budget request that raised Levin's concerns but said the purpose was not to avoid operational testing. They said operational testing would be conducted after the system's elements are in place. Operational testing typically takes place prior to a system's deployment, but the Pentagon contends that such testing in the case of missile defense cannot be done until after it is deployed.

Of the four officials testifying, only one-lieutenant General Ronald Kadish, director of the Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency-claimed he knew of the budget provision before it was sent to Congress, and he told Levin that it could be changed to allay the senator's concerns.

Although it appeared that Levin had been placated, the senator's ire rose again when Aldridge predicted that the proposed system, if deployed next year, would perform with 90 percent effectiveness against a missile launched by North Korea. …