News Briefings

DoD News Briefing

Thursday, January 7, 1999, 1:45 p.m.
Presenter: Kenneth Bacon, ASD (PA)

Kenneth Bacon, ASD (PA)


Q: What is the status of the review of the National Missile Defense, both in terms of what was reported today and about the budget as well as the three plus three strategy and any changes there might be to it?

A: Well, I guess I can tell you several things about National Missile Defense. Our basic program is on track, which is to develop -- work to develop a National Missile Defense system that has the capability of providing defense against a limited attack, that is a relatively small attack. We will -- the development phase is set to continue to the year 2000. And at that point, we'll make a decision whether to begin deploying the system, or it could be made after that. But at that point, if the development stage goes successfully, we will be at a point where we can make a decision about deployment. No decision about deployment has been made. However, there will be money included in the future year defense plan, approximately $7 billion, to give us the option of moving toward deployment should that decision be made. Now, we're talking about a National Missile Defense system, which of course, is different than Theater Missile Defense systems.

The system, as you know, is designed primarily to protect us against nuclear errors that could come from one of the nuclear powers, an unexpected launch, or against an attack from a rogue nation that is in the process of developing long-range missiles that could be fitted within any types of warheads. As I say, it's not the type of system designed to deal with a saturation attack, but a very limited attack.

Q: It protects certain points in the country, or would it --

A: All 50 United States.

Q: Has a decision been made on whether or not an additional year or two will be needed in the three plus three strategy either to decide to deploy or to actually deploy?

A: Well, we're going to have a crucial test in June. And it will be an interceptor test. I think that will give us a good indication of where this system stands. There are other interceptor tests planned for later in the year or early next year. So based on that, we'll make a decision about the schedule for the program. Right now, today, we're still with the three plus three program, three years to develop and then from the time we decide to deploy, three years to deploy. Whether that changes remains to be seen.

Q: (Inaudible)

A: Pardon?

Q: The June --

A: No. It's a full system test. I'm sorry. There's an intercept test in June of this year. And there will be a full system test in the year 2000. And the full system test will involve sensors to discriminate between warheads and decoys. It will involve the radar picking up the target, discriminating the target from the decoys and then actually trying to hit it.

Q: (Inaudible)

A: The June test is a National Missile [Defense] test. This is different. I mean --

Q: That's Boeing?

A: Boeing is the lead system integrator for the National Missile Defense program. But what we're dealing with here is a National Missile Defense, and it may be worth just running through some of the differences between National Missile Defense and Theater Missile Defense. National Missile Defense, first of all, you've got 15 or 20 minutes, maybe even longer from the time you detect the launch -- you probably have 15 minutes to find the target and to shoot it down. The target may be 100 miles up in the atmosphere. The target is extremely hot. Therefore, it throws out a heat signature that is easy to find through infrared detectors because it's in space. But the target is moving at probably 12,000 miles an hour. And therefore, it has to be hit with an interceptor that moves at exactly -- at least that speed. The Theater Missile Defense is much lower altitude. You probably have much less time, maybe five or six, eight minutes to lock onto the target and destroy it, and it doesn't throw out the same heat signature that a long-range ballistic missile warhead would. So they're significantly different, and they pose significantly different technological challenges.

Q: Ken, to what extent has (inaudible) arms treaties with Russia hindered or channeled the directions in which we can conduct research and development and testing of the various systems on --

A: First of all, the anti-ballistic missile system treaty applies primarily to National Missile Defense. And the Theater Missile Defense is for much shorter range operations. And much of the Theater Missile Defense would be located away from the United States in the theater in which the threat occurs, such as the Gulf or around the Korean peninsula, for instance. National Missile Defense, the managers of the program say that the development of this program has not been influenced or changed in any way by the ABM treaty. We are in the development stage. We've made no deployments, and there has not been -- we would not have conducted the development any differently in the absence of the treaty.

Q: On the $7 billion, is the majority of that pushed to the outer years? What's the span of time? Do you have any breakdown --

A: Well, I think it's over a six-year period, and I don't have a breakdown. It's approximately $7 billion, not exactly $7 billion. And all of this will become clear at the appropriate time when we release the budget.

Q: Will it start in '00 or --

A: It depends. I tried to be very clear that there are a number of decision points ahead of us. And how we proceed will depend on the success of the tests that are coming up in June of this year: the very important interceptor test, followed by some other interceptor tests, then a full system test in the year 2000. Based on the -- there have always been the two T's have driven this program: threat and technology. And the program is designed to allow us to best match the technology with the threat. And we're still proceeding in that way.

Q: Even if the technology had been proven viable, that in 2000 the administration could decide not to issue a deployment order right then. They could kind of put it on hold.

A: As I said, no decision has been made on deployment and that won't be made for some time. It is clear from the Rumsfeld report and other information that there is increasing concern about the threat. But we will continue to evaluate the threat and exactly where potential adversaries stand in the development of longer range missiles. And as we go ahead and work on the technological development of this program, at the appropriate time, which will be the year 2000, we'll make a decision about what to do.