DATE=1/18/2000 TYPE=CORRESPONDENT REPORT TITLE=MISSILE TEST - L NUMBER=2-258193 BYLINE=JIM RANDLE DATELINE=PENTAGON CONTENT= VOICED AT : /// EDS: Test launch set for sometime after 9pm est. Impact on warhead scheduled for about 9:30pm. Not yet clear when results will be announced. /// INTRO: The United States is set to make a key test of a system designed to protect the country against ballistic missiles Tuesday evening. Designers hope the anti ballistic missile system will hit its target and turn a dummy warhead into "bitty-bitty space dust" (microscopic pieces). Program supporters say they have already held one successful test last October. Critics of the National Missile Defense say it will do more to damage to arms control treaties than it will to weapons headed toward the United States. V-O-A's Jim Randle reports. Text: The test begins with the launch of a intercontinental ballistic missile from California. An elaborate system of heat sensors in space, and newly developed kinds of radar on earth track the weapon while a new, advanced computer system plots it's course, altitude and speed. Twenty minutes into the test, a small, fast rocket roars into space from a Pacific Island, aimed at striking the dummy warhead while it is dropping out of space, 190 kilometers above the earth. Missile experts say one key objective of the test is to see if the new battle management computer is up to the demanding task of sorting out masses of data from sensors and guiding the anti ballistic missile close to the attacking warhead. Once the so-called "kill vehicle" enters space, it is supposed to use heat sensors and telescopes to find the target, a computer to make sure it is the right target and tremendous speed to destroy the unarmed test warhead. Defense officials say the tests are designed to give President Clinton the technical information he needs to decide next June if the system should be built and deployed. Top Pentagon officials now estimate the cost of the system at about 12-point-7 billion dollars over the five years it will take to build the first 100 interceptors and radars to guide them. A less elaborate test last October saw the weapon hit its target. One more test is slated before the President's deployment decision. Nuclear-armed nations Russia and China are strongly critical of the missile defense system, complaining that it undermines the strategic balance that has kept the peace for decades. Beijing and Moscow have threatened to stop arms control efforts that have been cutting the number of nuclear warheads, or to build additional warheads if the U-S system is deployed. But U-S officials say the system is capable only of stopping a few missiles, the sort of attack that might be launched by North Korea, not the thousands of warheads that could be fired by Russian forces. Missile proliferation expert Tim McCarthy says the missile defense system enjoys strong political support in the United States, particularly from Republican members of Congress and Presidential candidates. He says they think the threat from rogue nations is worse than the political, economic and diplomatic cost of the system. /// McCarthy act /// There is indeed a threat out there, and those political impacts that might be seen from, for example, the Chinese or the Russians, are not as immediate,or as important as our lack of defenses against,as say a North Korean missile. /// end act /// Mr, McCarthy is a senior analyst at the Center for Proliferation Studies in Monterey, California. He says U-S critics of the National Missile Defense system express doubts about whether the system will work well enough to be worth the billions of dollars it will cost. (Signed) NEB/PT 18-Jan-2000 20:44 PM EDT (19-Jan-2000 0144 UTC) NNNN Source: Voice of America .