Missile Test Comes As Financing Is Threatened

Missile Test Comes As Financing Is Threatened
May 23rd, 2007  
Team Infidel

Topic: Missile Test Comes As Financing Is Threatened

Missile Test Comes As Financing Is Threatened
New York Times
May 23, 2007 By Thom Shanker
WASHINGTON, May 22 — With Congress considering cutting the Pentagon’s budget for missile defenses and Europe on edge over Bush administration proposals to deploy the system to the continent, much is riding on a test scheduled in the next few days of the antimissile shield based in California and Alaska.
If the test goes well, those who favor the program may have the best chance in years to argue that it is ready to speed forward. But if it goes poorly, it most likely means more trouble is ahead for a program long criticized as being placed in the field before it was proven.
It is only the second full test of the antimissile system, which has been overhauled and delayed repeatedly over the years. This test has been delayed by software problems for about five months.
As if to lower the pressure, Pentagon and military officials tend to describe the test as just one more in a long sequence of opportunities to validate President Bush’s goal of fielding limited missile defenses to shield the United States or its allies from the possibility of attack by a country like North Korea or Iran.
Barring technical glitches or bad weather, a ballistic missile is scheduled to launch from an island in Alaska early Thursday and be tracked by satellite and radar equipment on land and at sea as it arcs over the Pacific Ocean toward California. Less than 20 minutes later, an interceptor will be fired from Vandenberg Air Force Base, north of Santa Barbara, to collide with the missile and destroy it more than 100 miles above the open waters of the Pacific.
In advance of the test, skeptics in Congress have been threatening to cut the missile defense budget, and Russia has warned that relations with Washington could rupture if the United States moves ahead with plans to base interceptors and radar equipment in former Soviet states.
Just last Thursday, the House of Representatives cut more than $764 million from the administration’s proposed spending of $8.9 billion on missile defenses in the next fiscal year. A new amount of $205 million was added during floor debate to the House military authorization bill for antimissile projects with Israel, but that money would come from outside the Pentagon’s programs for ballistic missile defense.
Representative Ellen O. Tauscher, the California Democrat who is the chairwoman of the Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, said the House bill, among other things, deleted money for preparing proposed missile defense sites in Poland and the Czech Republic, and instead focused spending on technologies viewed as having more immediate promise.
“We want the Missile Defense Agency to deal with the near-term threats to the war-fighter, to the American people here at home, and to our European allies and deployed troops,” she said. “Too much of the assets were for the future, for yet-to-be-defined science projects.”
The House version protected money for three missile defense systems: the Patriot Advanced Capability 3, the Aegis and the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense. Those all aim at warheads as they close in on their targets, rather than being designed to strike missiles in space during the middle course of their flight, which is the type of system scheduled for this week’s test. Money for an experimental airborne laser was also approved.
In the Senate, the Armed Services Committee has been debating its own version of the military spending legislation this week. The House bill and what emerges from the Senate will have to be reconciled before both houses of Congress vote on the Defense Department budget for the 2008 fiscal year, and both Democrats and Republicans say the results from this next missile defense test will weigh heavily as they decide how to cast their ultimate votes on the antimissile portion of the bill.
The administration’s diplomatic efforts also moved ahead this week, State Department officials said. John C. Rood, the assistant secretary of state for international security, was traveling between Warsaw and Prague for what one department official said was “the start of formal negotiations” to deploy 10 interceptors in Poland and tracking radar in the Czech Republic.
The previous major test, conducted Sept. 1, was graded a success even by skeptics. It was designed specifically to test the radar at Beale Air Force Base, near Sacramento — but the interceptor actually hit the attacking missile, even though that was not a goal of the test.
Weather is an issue this time around, with military meteorologists warning of foul weather. Safety rules require that the attacking missile be visible to monitors who can push a destruct button if it veers off course.
Richard Lehner, a spokesman for the Missile Defense Agency, said that even though a general time and location for the test would be known to operators of the interceptor, “This will be as realistic as it can be, based upon what we are allowed to do within various safety regulations.”
That does not satisfy skeptics.
“The test is highly choreographed, and much simpler than what the system would face in a real battle engagement,” said Frederick K. Lamb, a professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Illinois.
Professor Lamb, who conducted a missile defense study for the American Physical Society, expressed concerns that a successful test this week would be cited as proof that “the system has a substantial capability in a real battle situation. That would be a gross exaggeration.”
The main engagement radar for this next test is at Beale Air Force Base, but the test will allow two seaborne tracking systems — naval radar aboard an Aegis destroyer and an X-band radar atop a mobile base the size of an oil platform — to track the attacking missile.

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