Top Military Brass Insists Missile Defense Ready to Be Deployed

Article excerpt

DESPITE INTENSE GRILLING from Senate Democrats and an acknowledgment that the system has yet to be fully tested, top Pentagon officials have not retreated from claims that a planned defense against ballistic missiles would be effective when it is deployed later this year.

"The analysis that has been done clearly shows that this will bring a capability, admittedly rudimentary and initial, but a capability that is of military utility," Admiral James ElHs, the commander of U.S. Strategic Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee March 11.

President George W. Bush declared Dec. 17, 2002, that the United States would begin operating the initial elements of a projected multilayered defense against ballistic missiles in 2004.

The president's announcement came only six days after the proposed system had failed in its latest attempt to destroy a mock warhead in space. That failure dropped the system's intercept record to five hits and three misses, and no similar tests have been conducted since.

Despite the system's small number of intercept tests, the Pentagon is pushing ahead with plans to fulfill the president's deployment order, which the Pentagon has since said would take place in fiscal year 2004, which ends Sept. 30.

Beginning as early as june, six groundbased missile interceptors are to be deployed at Fort Greely, Alaska, and another four interceptors at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. By the end of 2005, the ground-based force will include 20 interceptors. Another 10 ship-based missile interceptors designed to counter short- and medium-range ballistic missiles are also to be deployed by that time.

Lieutenant General Ronald Kadish, director of the Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency (MDA) and the official in charge of developing U.S. missile defense systems, told the armed services panel that the interceptors will be available for emergency use and testing purposes.

Kadish cautioned senators against predicting the proposed ground-based system's future performance capabilities solely by its intercept record. he explained that MDA relies more extensively on models and computer simulations to gauge how the system will function and said that these tools suggest the defenses will work properly.

One Pentagon witness offered a less certain perspective under pointed questioning from Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.). Thomas Christie, the Pentagon official charged with overseeing final testing of U.S. weapon systems, said it was not clear that the system would be able to destroy a real North Korean missile because of the immature nature of existing models and simulations. A North Korean attack is what the Pentagon routinely postulates as the near-term threat that the system will face, although Pyongyang has yet to flight-test a missile capable of reaching the continental United States.

Christie defended the Pentagon's current deployment plan as necessary so that the system could be subjected to more challenging testing. he said that system components had to be put into the field so they could be tested in ways that more closely resemble real scenarios and involve real troops as operators, or what the Pentagon calls "operational testing."

However, when Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) asked whether the Pentagon had any operational tests planned, Christie said, "As of right now, there are no plans for that." Both Christie and Kadish said that some tests have had operational aspects even though no dedicated operational tests have taken place or are scheduled. …