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U.S. Sharing Scud Missile Research Data With Israel

November 29, 2002|William Overend | Times Staff Writer

Two Scud missiles have been launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base this month as part of a three-year program to improve missile defense systems -- a milestone in a study that has the U.S. sharing information with Israel.

Officials said the launches, witnessed by a team of Israeli and U.S. military and defense industry officials, mark the first instances in which the weapons have been fired from U.S. soil.

The Scud research has been conducted with a high level of secrecy. For example, officials Wednesday would say only that the two missiles were obtained from "foreign sources."

The Soviet Union developed the Scud in the 1960s, and the missile, used by Iraq against Saudi Arabia and Israel during the Persian Gulf War, is now in the arsenal of at least 25 nations.

"Both missiles were similar to advanced Scuds now in the Iraqi arsenal," said Chris Taylor, spokesman for the U.S. Missile Defense Agency. "It was a very good series of tests."

According to Defense Department officials, the study is partly aimed at helping develop a new generation of U.S.-made Patriot ground-to-air missiles and other defense technology.

In the Gulf War in 1991, Iraq fired about 90 Scuds. One killed 28 U.S. soldiers at a barracks in Saudi Arabia. Most of the 39 fired at Israel landed in unoccupied areas, but two people were killed and about 200 injured.

If the U.S. enters another war against Iraq, officials fear that Scuds could again be aimed at Israel, which is defended by the Israeli-made Arrow antimissile system as well as Patriots.

The Scud missiles, each one 36 feet long and 13,000 pounds, have been notoriously unpredictable in flight. They tend to wobble wildly, sometimes making them difficult to shoot down.

One goal of the two tests, involving missiles fired in daylight Nov. 14 and in darkness Monday morning from a mobile launch pad, was to study the trajectory of the weapon and its characteristics during flight.

Before the launches, sensors that measure speed, altitude, engine burn rate and other flight traits were installed. The missiles carried mock warheads and were launched over the Pacific Ocean, officials said.

The first Scud traveled about 115 miles and reached an altitude of 150,000 feet before splashdown, officials said. The second traveled 186 miles and reached an altitude of 281,000 feet.

The project at Vandenberg, near the Santa Barbara County city of Lompoc, began in 2000 and will end next November, Taylor said. A preliminary report will be completed in the spring.

"Vandenberg was the site of choice for a couple of reasons," he said.

"It has the greatest ground and aerial sensors, and we also wanted to make sure they landed in the water."

There was no effort made to shoot either missile down as part of the test, officials said. They said a primary goal is to fully understand Scud capabilities and weaknesses.

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