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3rd Test of Antimissile Defense System Postponed

March 22, 2000|From Reuters

WASHINGTON — The key third test of a U.S. antimissile defense system has been postponed for two months until June 26, but President Clinton could still decide as early as this summer whether to begin deploying it, the Pentagon said Tuesday.

The third attempt to shoot down a missile warhead over the Pacific Ocean had been scheduled for April 27. But the Defense Department said the delay was ordered to fix a cooling system problem in the interceptor weapon built by Raytheon Co.

Air Force Lt. Gen. Ronald Kadish, who directs the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization, said Defense Secretary William S. Cohen is now likely to send a Deployment Readiness Review on the system to Clinton in July instead of June as previously planned.

The plan to build an interceptor base in Alaska to defeat a limited number of missiles fired at the United States by "rogue states" such as North Korea is bitterly opposed by Russia and China and has been questioned by Washington's European allies.

The United States shot down a dummy warhead in space over the Pacific last October. A second test failed in January.

Kadish said at a news conference that the missile defense program is still on schedule for deployment as early as 2005 if Clinton decides to go ahead. He denied that the testing is being rushed by the Pentagon because of political pressure.

"We are taking a very strict technical approach to this process," Kadish told reporters.

The general said analysis indicates a plumbing blockage of frigid krypton gas apparently foiled the second $100-million test of the missile defense system and that it is unlikely to cause a major delay in the program.

The blockage prevented proper cooling of two infrared sensors on the antimissile weapon, keeping them from detecting the warhead's heat signature in space, he said.

Cohen said after January's test that the two sensors had failed in the final six seconds as the "hit-to-kill" weapon approached the target and that the miss was probably by fewer than 100 feet.

Clinton is under heavy pressure from GOP congressional leaders to proceed with former President Reagan's space-based "Star Wars" missile defense system.

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