Test missile fails,
but Russia still blasts program

United Press International January 19, 2000, Wednesday

WASHINGTON, Jan. 19 (UPI) -- Although an attempt to intercept an unarmed missile with a guided rocket failed Tuesday night, dealing a blow to the Defense Department's aggressively scheduled program to build a workable national missile defense system to protect the United States, the Russian government on Wednesday blasted the United States for even conducting the test.

The target, an old Minuteman missile, took off from Vandenberg AFB, Calif., at 9:19 p.m. The interceptor was launched from the Kwajalein Atoll in the Pacific Ocean -- 4,300 miles away -- about 20 minutes later. They were expected to collide within 10 minutes, with the interceptor smashing into the target at a speed of 15,000 miles per hour, creating a force that would obliterate both missiles.

For reasons that are still unexplained, the interceptor failed to find its target, said Ballistic Missile Defense Organization spokesman Marc Raimondi. "Government and industry program officials are going to do an extensive review of the test" to determine the cause of the failure, Raimondi said. The review could take several weeks.

In Moscow on Wednesday, three-star Col. Gen. Leonid Ivashov, head of the International Cooperation Department of the Russian Defense Ministry, said the U.S. test was seen by the Kremlin as a step towards dismantling the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which has maintained a balance of mutual deterrence between the two nuclear superpowers. He said the U.S. drive to develop a national missile defense could lead to a new Cold War between the United States and Russia.

The Pentagon hopes to tell President Clinton in June that the technology is ready to make such a system feasible. Clinton's decision to deploy would yield a system of 100 interceptors by 2005 or 2006.

Tuesday's exercise was regarded as the first integrated test of the system. Program officials warned last week that the test would be very complex and difficult but said that even if it failed, it would teach engineers valuable lessons.

Had it been successful, and had it been determined that the command and control system and ground-based radar functioned as planned, it would have given the Pentagon sufficient confidence in the technology to say the system is technically ready to be deployed.

The Ballistic Missile Defense Organization decided last fall that the minimum criteria for a recommendation would be two successful intercepts, one of which had to be an integrated systems test.

A less taxing intercept test on Oct. 2 was successful. In that test, the target's location was programmed into the interceptor, as the purpose of the exercise was to prove that it was possible to hit a bullet with a bullet.

The Pentagon has another opportunity prior to the June deployment readiness review to achieve another direct hit and prove the system works with flight test five, now scheduled for late April or May.

A successful integrated systems test Tuesday would have given the Pentagon bragging rights to having won the 20-year-old "Star Wars" debate. With $120 billion spent on the development of radar, interceptors and spy satellites since the 1950s, according to the Brookings Institution, it would have been a long-sought technical victory over those who dismissed the task as impossible and unreasonably expensive.

But more interesting, said John Pike, senior analyst with the Washington, D.C.-based Federation of American Scientists, are the domestic political ramifications -- specifically, the presidential campaign of Vice President Al Gore.

"Clinton's going to say yes (to a deployment decision in June) regardless of what happens. The whole thing is being driven by the presidential campaign," Pike told United Press International. "No self-respecting Democratic campaign manager is going to let a few engineers at a test range get in the way of getting Al Gore elected. We're talking practical politics. The Republicans want to make (national missile defense) a campaign issue. The Democrats will make it go away as a campaign issue by calling for deploying it," he said.

The Republicans are likely to paint Gore as being soft on the defense of the homeland if Clinton does not give NMD the nod, agrees John Isaacs, president of Council for a Livable World and NMD opponent.

It was an issue in the 1996 presidential campaign and again in the 1998 Senate race, Isaacs said, pointing out that the tactic was unsuccessful on both occasions.

Russia objects to the system because it would violate the ABM treaty, the cornerstone of arms control for the last three decades. If the United States abrogates the treaty by pushing ahead with NMD, "there could be a very strong reaction in China and NATO allies -- one more unilateral step following (the rejection of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty). I'm not sure a foreign policy crisis will help the Clinton/Gore team," said Isaacs.

Dimitri Yakushin, special adviser to acting Russian President Vladimir Putin, told reporters Tuesday that Russia continues to oppose changing or scrapping the ABM Treaty. "We have to do everything to keep it...because any kind of move can destabilize the situation," he said.

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright made it clear Tuesday in a speech in Washington that the deployment decision in her view is far from a done deal. "There has been no decision made on the deployment of the national missile defense, and that decision will be made sometime during the summer, and it will be based not just ontechnology, the feasibility of itbut also on the threat, the cost and its effect on our national security, including how it affects arms control agreements," she said. --

Copyright 2000 U.P.I.  
United Press International