U.S. Sea-Based Missile Defense Fails Test
Wed June 18, 2003 10:14 PM ET
By Jim Wolf

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - An interceptor missile fired from a U.S. Navy cruiser on Wednesday missed its target, a mock warhead, over the Pacific Ocean, the military said.

"We did not have an intercept," said Rick Lehner, a spokesman for the Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency.

The failed test, the first miss in four attempts to shoot down an incoming short-range missile using the sea-based Aegis weapons system, was a setback for the Pentagon's largest weapons development program.

Five out of eight tests of a companion ground-based missile interceptor have successfully hit their targets in what critics have called unrealistically controlled conditions.

Preliminary indications are that the interceptor, a Raytheon Co. -built Standard Missile 3, deployed its "kill vehicle," or warhead, but failed to hit its target, Lehner said, adding it was too early to say what went wrong.

"We're still fairly early in this development program for this very advanced technology," he told Reuters. "And we'll press forward with our test program. We're confident that this sea-based interceptor will provide a very reliable defense."

The Pentagon had billed the test as the latest in a series featuring "more complex, stressing and operationally realistic ballistic missile engagement scenarios."

In December, President Bush ordered activation by Sept. 30, 2004, of anti-missile capabilities that could guard against a strike from North Korea, which the CIA says probably already has one or two nuclear weapons.

The initial deployment involves six land-based missile interceptors in Alaska and four in California. Up to 20 smaller interceptors were to be added in 2005 on three Navy cruisers equipped with the Lockheed Martin Corp.-built Aegis combat system, the Missile Defense Agency has said.

The sea-based interceptors are designed to knock out short to intermediate-range missiles closer to their launch pads.

The Defense Department estimates it will need $50 billion for missile defense research and development over the next six years and more later to defend against missiles capable of delivering nuclear, chemical or biological weapons.

Wednesday's test involved an interceptor fired from the cruiser Lake Erie at a dummy warhead launched from Kauai, Hawaii. The main goal was to assess the guidance systems of the interceptor's warhead, Lehner said.