May 26, 1999

Target missile problem thwarts missile test

Copyright © 1999, The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast or re-distributed directly or re-directly.
WHITE SANDS MISSILE RANGE, N.M. (AP) - The Army scratched Tuesday's test flight of an antimissile missile because of a problem with the one that was to serve as its target.

It was not immediately known what the problem was, said Jim Eckles, a White Sands Missile Range spokesman.

The Hera target missile - a modified Minuteman 2 - was fired from a site north of the range at 5:14 a.m. Tuesday. The Army had planned to launch a Theater High-Altitude Area Defense missile to knock the target missile out of the sky.

The THAAD missile had failed in six previous flights to hit flying targets. The system has cost at least $3.8 billion.

The Pentagon charged Lockheed Martin Corp., the maker of the antimissile system, a $15 million penalty for not achieving a hit during a March 29 test as required by its $15 billion contract.

"The more it fails, the more money it seems Congress and the president are willing to throw at it," said Brian Hughes, director of Taxpayers for Common Sense's national security reform project.

"It's not a reliable weapon given the number of failures they've had so far; it's not going to be a reliable weapon anytime soon," said John Pike, director of space policy for the Federation of American Scientists in Washington, D.C.

But the tests are needed to learn about the system, and failure to intercept should not be equated with complete failure, said Tom Johnson, director of external affairs for the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization at the Pentagon.

"If we allow (an enemy) to launch an attack against our troops overseas and not defend them, consider those costs," Johnson said.

Another test will be conducted as early as within the next two weeks, Johnson said. A backup target exists but needs to be made ready, he said.

Because the missile has repeatedly failed to hit its target, Congress revised its contract with Lockheed Martin last June, making the company financially liable for any misses.

Lockheed will have to achieve two successful hit-to-kill missile tests by June 30 or be penalized an additional $20 million, according to the contract. In all, the company could face $75 million in penalties by the end of 1999 if there are more failures.

Bob Hunt, spokesman for the Army's air and missile defense program in Huntsville, Ala., said he did not immediately know whether Lockheed Martin would be granted an extension if it was determined that the Hera problem was not the company's fault.

The THAAD is designed to strike enemy missiles fired from at least 800 miles away - the kinds of weapons nations such as Iran, North Korea and Pakistan are developing, raising the threat to U.S. troops and allies overseas.

The antimissile missile has technology that is the most sophisticated military weaponry, and it would contribute to development of a system that could protect the United States.

In addition to the test in March, there were four THAAD missile flight tests in 1995, two in 1996 and one each in 1997 and 1998. The first three of the nine tests were not designed to hit flying targets. They tested such things as the missile's navigation and control in flight and were considered successful, Hunt said.

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