Washington (AFP) January 28, 2000 - US Defense Secretary William Cohen expressed confidence Friday in the National Missile Defense (NMD) system despite a failed test over the Pacific last week, revealing that the interceptor missile came within 100 feet (30 meters) of its target.
Using a baseball analogy, Cohen said the miss was "less than the distance between home plate and second base."
"I think the technology is certainly proving to be on the right track," he told reporters. "The miss that was involved was not by much."
The Pentagon has said the miss on January 19 was caused by the failure of the interceptor's infrared seekers in the last six seconds of the attempted intercept with a warhead fired from California on an intercontinental ballistic missile.
One more test of the system is scheduled before President Bill Clinton decides this summer whether to order the deployment of the system by 2005.
But leading Republicans as well as Democrats have urged that the decision be delayed.
A decision to deploy is controversial because it would require either abandoning or changing the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty with Russia, which limits the missile defenses either country can have.
Russia and China have urged Washington to abandon NMD, and European allies also have expressed misgivings about its impact on arms control.
"I've made no judgement in terms of whether it should be delayed," Cohen said of the deployment decision. "We get one more major test coming up, and then we'll see where we are at that time."
Cohen said the Pentagon's proposed 2001 budget, due to be submitted to Congress next month, has enough money for NMD to proceed with deployment if the president gives the go ahead.
The failure that spoiled last week's test "was a mechanical and engineering problem, not a science one," he said.
"So the science is there and I think the problems that accounted for this near miss will be corrected in the future," he said.
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