Air Force News

Cohen announces national missile defense plan

Released: 22 Jan 1999

by Douglas J. Gillert
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON (AFPN) -- The Pentagon will spend $6.6 billion over the next six years to develop and possibly deploy a limited national missile defense system.

Cohen described how the Defense Department will guard America against rogue nation missile attacks the day after President Clinton said in his annual State of the Union address that the United States must do more to restrain the spread of nuclear weapons and missiles.

Cohen; Army Gen. Henry Shelton, Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman: and Air Force Lt. Gen. Lester Lyles, Ballistic Missile Defense Organization director, described the plan Jan. 20 to Pentagon reporters.

"We're affirming there is a threat and the threat is growing," Cohen said. "We expect it will soon pose a danger not only to our troops overseas but also to Americans here at home." The defense plan calls for a limited capability, one that would defend the United States against attack by rogue nations, he said. It would not provide a hedge against Russia's extensive missile capabilities.

The need for limited national defense comes from growing capabilities of nations such as North Korea that are building and testing multistage rockets capable of carrying warheads, Cohen said. North Korea's firing of a Taepo Dong missile last August indicates "the United States in fact will face a rogue-nation missile threat to our homeland against which we will have to defend the American people," he said.

The envisioned system includes a satellite-based sensor to detect the exhaust of a missile after it's launched, Lyles said. Early-warning radar would track the missile's flight path, a ground-based radar would target it and a ground-launched interceptor would destroy it.

Cohen acknowledged the plan may require altering the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty that the United States and the Soviet Union (now Russia) signed in 1972.

"We have amended the treaty before, and we see no reason why it cannot be amended again," Cohen said. He added that the treaty provides the right to withdraw with six months' notice "if a party concludes it's in its supreme national interests."

To avoid accusations of "rushing to failure" that have surrounded development of a theater missile defense system, Cohen said DOD will phase key decisions to occur only after critical integrated flight tests.

"As a result, instead of projecting a deployment date of 2003 with exceedingly high risk, we are now projecting a deployment date of 2005 with a much more manageable risk," he said. "But if the testing goes flawlessly, we may be able to deploy sooner.

"We cannot afford to fail," the secretary said. "The approach that we are presenting today is the optimal one to provide a capable national missile defense system as soon as possible."


* Department of Defense
* Gen. Henry Shelton
* Lt. Gen. Lester L. Lyles
* Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen
* U.S. Army