SLUG: 5-48686 US / Missile Defense DATE: NOTE NUMBER:









INTRO: A proposed U-S national missile defense system has been sharply criticized - both in the United States and abroad. But testing continues as President-elect George W. Bush, an advocate of the system, prepares to take office in late January. V-O-A Correspondent Alex Belida reports from the Pentagon.

TEXT: President Bill Clinton put off a decision this past year on whether to proceed with deployment of the controversial national missile defense system.

But Mr. Clinton and outgoing Defense Secretary William Cohen left open the potential for future deployment by authorizing continued testing.

Pentagon spokesman Ken Bacon says several tests of the complex missile interceptor and radar detection system are expected in the new year.


There's actually supposed to be a number of tests in this coming year. And one of the decisions that the president (Clinton) made when he decided not to go ahead with a specific deployment or pre-deployment decision was to continue a robust development program. And Secretary Cohen said at the time that he would assure that a robust

development program continued.


There appears little doubt that President-elect Bush will support a vigorous testing program. Mr. Bush is on record as advocating both national and regional, or theater-based, missile defense systems.

Mr. Bush is worried that more than two-dozen countries have ballistic missiles and that a number of them, including North Korea, Iran, and Iraq, are developing missiles that could reach intercontinental range, thus posing a direct threat to the United States.

In one of his campaign's position papers, the President-elect said quoting now "the U-S government can no longer afford to drag its feet on building and deploying a missile defense system."

Mr. Bush went on to add his view that the United States can also no longer allow itself to be restricted by what he termed "Cold War arms control agreements" a clear reference to the 1972 U-S treaty with the former Soviet Union restricting Anti-Ballistic Missiles.

Russia strongly opposes the proposed new U-S missile defense system. But Mr. Bush believes if Moscow rejects amendments that would permit deployment, then the United States should pull out of the so-called A-B-M treaty.

Russia is just one of the opponents Mr. Bush will face in deciding to push ahead. China has also strongly criticized the missile defense plan as have some U-S allies. And there are critics of the plan in the United States itself.

That will be political and diplomatic challenge confronting the new President.

But are there still technical hurdles to be overcome?

Air Force Lieutenant General Ronald Kadish says, bluntly, that the answer is "no."

In a recent statement to Congress, General Kadish, the director of the Pentagon's Ballistic Missile Defense Organization, said no technological breakthroughs are needed. He said crucial elements such as radars, sensors, and interceptors already exist. The big challenge is what he describes as system integration and he admits that what he calls a "tough engineering job" still lies ahead.

The proposed "shield" would consist of 100 interceptors, linked to highly-sophisticated radars. It is designed to protect against limited missile attacks from so-called rogue states like North Korea, Iran, or Iraq. (Signed)