F.R. Duplantier reporting Behind The Headlines

Week of:
August 13, 2000
Missile Defenses Must be Deployed!

F.R. Duplantier

by: F.R. Duplantier

America must continue developing an antiballistic missile defense system no matter how many times a test fails.

"The unsuccessful attempt of a ballistic missile interceptor to destroy a target ballistic missile tells more about the Clinton Administration's failure to manage the military's defense research programs than it does about the technical feasibility of missile defense," argues Baker Spring of the Heritage Foundation. "The July 7th test failed," he reports, "because of a problem with the military's standard rocket technology, not with the newly designed 'kill vehicle' that should have destroyed an incoming target warhead."

Spring explains that the interceptor consisted of "two components: a modified Minuteman booster rocket and a kill vehicle to destroy a dummy warhead. . . . The Minuteman rocket is not new technology," he stresses. "It is the backbone of America's deployed land-based strategic missile forces. The kill vehicle used in this test did contain new technology for intercepting warheads in space," Spring affirms. "Other elements of the test system -- such as sensors to track the target missile in flight, a communications system, and prototype radar -- did contain new missile defense technology."

Spring concludes from test results that "the sensors, communications system, battle management system, and radar functioned properly. However," he notes, "a malfunction in the Minuteman booster prevented the kill vehicle from being deployed. According to the Pentagon, the booster rocket started to tumble during flight and did not signal the kill vehicle to separate and begin its intercept routine. This booster failure may indicate problems with engineering or quality control," Spring concedes, "but it does not demonstrate problems with missile defense technology."

The threat to our national security will only grow more ominous "as long as America remains vulnerable to missile attack and hostile countries see an opportunity to use ballistic missiles to intimidate the world's only superpower," warns Spring. "Despite the outcome of this test, the Pentagon must move forward quickly with the development and deployment of missile defenses for America," he advises. "Fielding a missile defense system against small-scale strikes is well within reach," Spring insists, "since the hit-to-kill technology has successfully destroyed dummy warheads in flight tests for more than a decade. A single failed test should never determine whether a system will be deployed. Instead," he suggests, "it should be used to help the military determine which technologies are the most capable and effective. . . ."

Jack Spencer and Joe Dougherty, also of the Heritage Foundation, complain that "the Clinton Administration's proposed missile defense architecture is structured around only a ground-based system with one or two launch sites. The plan," they note, "does not include forward-based interceptors that could counter long-range missiles early in their flight." Spencer and Dougherty would "begin by deploying sea-based defenses and follow as soon as possible with space-based defensive systems." They point out that "ships carrying interceptors can cruise to locations that are in reach of almost every potential trouble spot. The U.S. Navy's current fleet of 22 Aegis cruisers already deployed around the world could be quickly ordered to various locations to establish a defensive shield between hostile states and the countries they threaten with missile attack."