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As Treaty Dies, Missile Site Born

Defense: Work is to begin Saturday on a test facility for a planned shield system.

June 14, 2002|From Reuters

WASHINGTON — The death of the 1972 Antiballistic Missile Treaty on Thursday cleared the way to begin digging interceptor silos in Alaska and for futuristic missile tests barred by the pact.

A groundbreaking ceremony is scheduled Saturday at Ft. Greely, Alaska, where President Bush plans a test facility that he hopes could also serve as an emergency defense by September 2004.

And Thursday night, an interceptor rocket fired from a Navy ship off Hawaii slammed into a dummy warhead in space in a success for a troubled part of the U.S. missile defense program.

The exercise showed that a rocket guided by a warship's radar system can knock down a medium- or long-range missile under controlled conditions. Pentagon officials said the test wasn't meant to be realistic but would help gather data to guide further development of ship-based antimissile systems.

The missile test would have been legal under the treaty, and the timing of the test was "sheer coincidence," said Chris Taylor, a Missile Defense Agency spokesman.

No coincidence, however, was the start of earthwork for silos to house future interceptors at Ft. Greely, about 100 miles southeast of Fairbanks. Breaking ground for a national missile defense base was barred by the treaty.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Thursday that Bush was committed to deploying a missile defense "as soon as possible to protect the American people and our deployed forces from the growing risks of terrorist nations or terrorists possessing weapons of mass destruction."

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