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Missile Test Failure Raises New Questions About System

File image of former ABM program director General Ronald Kadish next to a missile kill vehicle engine- now among many being mentioned to replace Sean O'Keefe as head of NASA.
Washington (AFP) Dec 16, 2004
The failure of the first US missile defense flight test in two years has again raised questions about a system President George W. Bush has promised to put on alert by year's end, analysts said.

Experts began a review to determine why the interceptor missile shut down Wednesday instead of blasting off a launch pad in the Marshall Islands into the path of target missile fired from Alaska, officials said.

Rick Lehner, a spokesman for the US Missile Defense Agency, said an anomaly detected in a component of the missile system triggered the automatic shutdown but it was still unknown how serious a failure it was.

"It's only been 48 hours since the test, so it would be pure speculation," he told AFP.

"We're doing the review. We'll end up identifying the anomaly, and take steps necessary to fix it," he said.

It was the first time the interceptor missile failed to launch in a flight test.

The 85-million-dollar test followed a two-year gap in testing while an operational booster for the interceptor was developed and to allow for a detailed review of the system after General Henry Obering took over as director of the MDA earlier this year.

Some experts said the failure points to the Pentagon's continuing problems in integrating components of a fragile, highly complex system designed to shoot down a missile with another missile as it travels through space.

Target missiles have been successfully intercepted in five of eight earlier attempts. However, all tests so far have been highly scripted events and not representative of the challenges of a real missile attack.

Philip Coyle, the Pentagon's chief weapons evaluator during the Clinton administration and a critic of the rush to deploy the system without more extensive testing, said, "It's a serious setback for the program."

He said the source of the failure may have been a new, faster booster that was developed by Orbital Sciences Corporation as the operational booster for the interceptor missile.

"This was the first time the so-called production representative booster was going to fly carrying a kill vehicle," he said in an interview.

"In this test, it never got off the ground. So obviously this booster is not production representative. And this means they are going to back and fix whatever went wrong in their design," he said.

"Since it obviously isn't the design they would want, they are not only going to have to fix it, but they are going to have to go back and fix the ones that have already been put in silos," he said.

The Pentagon in recent weeks has put six interceptor missiles with the Orbital Sciences boosters into launch silos at Fort Greely, Alaska and another in a silo at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

An eighth interceptor missile was to go into a silo at Vandenberg by the end of the month.

The failure now makes it far more difficult for Bush to make good on his campaign promise to declare the system operational by the end of the month.

"That's over," Joseph Cirincione, an analyst at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and a critic of the system, said in an interview. "There's no way this is going to be declared operational in 2004."

The 11-billion-dollar-a-year missile defense program still has deep support in the Republican controlled Congress, but competition for funds may increase with the rising costs of the war in Iraq.

"The president seems to have an infinite capacity for absorbing failure. This will not do anything to lessen the president's support for the program. However, it does add to the growing image of a deeply troubled program," said Cirincione.

"We got a big, fat frozen turkey on our hands up there in Alaska," he said.

"And they keep trying to dress it up and present it as a success but the repeated failures to meet schedule, to meet performance, to meet budget make the system vulnerable to budget cuts, either by members of Congress or members of the military," he said.

All rights reserved. � 2004 Agence France-Presse. Sections of the information displayed on this page (dispatches, photographs, logos) are protected by intellectual property rights owned by Agence France-Presse. As a consequence, you may not copy, reproduce, modify, transmit, publish, display or in any way commercially exploit any of the content of this section without the prior written consent of Agence France-Presse.

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Incomplete Test For US Missile Defense
Washington (AFP) Dec 15, 2004
The US Missile Defense Agency said Wednesday that a planned missile defense flight test over the Pacific Ocean had failed as the interceptor missile did not take off and was automatically shut down.

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