Rumsfeld reviews first-strike preparations


Richard Moore

Original source URL:

August 28, 2006

Rumsfeld Sees Some Progress in Missile Plan

FORT GREELY, Alaska, Aug. 27 ‹ Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld said here
Sunday that while the fledgling United States ballistic missile defense system 
was becoming more capable, he wanted to see a successful full-scale test before 
declaring it able to shoot down a ballistic missile.

³I have a lot of confidence in these folks, and I have a lot of confidence in 
the work that¹s been done,² Mr. Rumsfeld said after touring one of the system¹s 
two interceptor sites. But he added that he wanted to see a test ³where we 
actually put all the pieces together; that just hasn¹t happened.²

Mr. Rumsfeld¹s assessment was more cautious than that of the Missile Defense 
Agency director, Lt. Gen. Henry A. Obering III of the Air Force. General Obering
said recently that he was confident the system could have shot down a ballistic 
missile test-fired July 4 by North Korea, if it had been a live attack aimed at 
the United States. The two-stage rocket broke up shortly after launching and 
fell into the Sea of Japan.

The Bush administration has taken the unusual step of deploying the system, 
which is designed to shoot down a limited number of missiles, before testing is 
completed and before all the radars and sensors necessary to track incoming 
missiles are in place. Mr. Rumsfeld repeated Sunday that the system was aimed at
protecting against attacks from North Korea and Iran, which he called ³rogue 
states that are intent on developing long-range ballistic missiles.²

The first flight test of the American system in more than a year, involving the 
firing of an interceptor at a target, is planned for this week, but it is not 
the sort of full-blown trial Mr. Rumsfeld meant.

The goal this week is to see if sensors in the so-called kill vehicle can 
recognize an incoming warhead, not to actually hit it, General Obering said. A 
test in which the kill vehicle is supposed to hit the target warhead is planned 
for later this year, he said.

But General Obering said that this week¹s test was ³about as realistic as you 
can get² because it employed a target that in its size and speed was 
representative of missiles that might be fired at the United States.

In the last two flight tests, the system halted the firing sequence before the 
interceptor missile left its silo. General Obering said those setbacks were due 
to ³minor glitches² in software and workmanship by contractors that had ³nothing
to do with the functionality of the system.²

Even so, after the second failed test in February 2005, the system was taken 
down until December.

On his tour of Fort Greely, a remote base 100 miles from Fairbanks, Mr. Rumsfeld
climbed down a ladder into an underground silo containing one of the 10 
54-foot-long interceptor missiles already deployed. Another of the three-stage 
missiles is scheduled to be put in the ground on Monday, officials said, and as 
many as 40 are supposed to be installed by next year. The other interceptor site
is at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, where two interceptors are in 

Once the sensors detect an incoming missile and the interceptor is launched, it 
flies 18,635 miles an hour until the kill vehicle separates from its missile 
and, if it works correctly, flies into the incoming one, destroying it.

The Bush administration is also looking at locations for an interceptor site in 
Europe that would protect the United States and parts of Europe from missiles 
launched from the Middle East. The administration is seeking $126 million this 
year to build the site and the interceptors, which could be in place in four 
years if Congress provides the money, General Obering said.

Later in the day, Mr. Rumsfeld met in Fairbanks with Sergei Ivanov, the defense 
minister of Russia, which has long been wary of the American antimissile system,
fearing it could be expanded into a more robust shield that would threaten the 
strategic balance between the United States and Russia.

Mr. Ivanov did not directly criticize the American system, but he called for 
³transparency² by the Bush administration, a term meant to convey Russia¹s 
concern about any modifications to the system that could take its capabilities 
beyond stopping a small number of missiles.

Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

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