Missile test did not go smoothly

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Missile defense test in October did not go smoothly after all

Saturday, January 15, 2000


WASHINGTON -- The Pentagon acknowledged yesterday that an October test of a critical part of a national missile defense system encountered more technical problems than officials initially revealed.

A prototype missile interceptor, thrust into space aboard a two-stage booster rocket, hit and destroyed its target in space.

It did it, however, only after putting its "cross hairs" on a large decoy balloon, said a senior military officer involved in the test, who briefed reporters about the results on condition he not be identified.

The balloon was there to replicate the kind of "countermeasures" a hostile nation might use to confuse an American anti-missile system.

The interceptor, known as a "kill vehicle" and manufactured by Ray

theon Corp., also was unable to navigate using the stars because an incorrect star map was loaded into the interceptor's onboard computer, the officer said.

These problems, not mentioned when the Pentagon declared the test a success on Oct. 2, were first reported yesterday by The New York Times. The Pentagon said it did not disclose the problems at the time because it did not consider them significant.

"We had some problems, challenges, anomalies, and it worked in spite of those," the officer said.

It remains unclear, he said, why the target, a mock warhead deployed from a Minuteman missile launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., suddenly came into the interceptor's field of view at the last second. If it had not, the interceptor would have rammed itself into the balloon instead, the officer said.

A few minutes after the "kill vehicle" separated from its rocket booster about 1,400 miles from the target it spotted the balloon and recognized that it was not the target. It then searched for the target but could not find it, the officer said. With time running out, it refocused on the balloon and was preparing to ram it when suddenly the target appeared. It then turned its attention to the target and rammed it.

The "kill vehicle" took aim at the balloon, even though it previously recognized it as an incorrect target, because after failing to find the target, the logic of its on-board computer told it, "I'm a kill vehicle; I'm going to kill something," the officer said.

A prime objective of the October flight test was to see if the kill vehicle could distinguish between the balloon and the target.

In a second test of the anti-missile system, scheduled for Tuesday, the "kill vehicle" will be programmed to search a wider area in space to find the target, in hopes that the same problem is not repeated, the official said.

Tuesday's test also will use a prototype X-band radar on Kwajalein Atoll in the central Pacific to help the interceptor understand where in space to look for the target.

Kenneth Bacon, spokesman for Defense Secretary William Cohen, yesterday said that the Pentagon still intends to make a recommendation to President Clinton this summer on whether to commit to deploying an anti-missile system.

Other officials said Clinton will have to make the decision no later than September to allow the Pentagon to keep its current timetable for building the system in Alaska by 2005.

-- Martin Thompson (Martin@aol.com), January 15, 2000


Hey, remember the hot plates on the decoy for the Bradley tanks testing? What did they call the movie based on it--Pentagon Papers?

-- Hokie (Hokie_@hotmail.com), January 15, 2000.

---gee, see a defense against the anti missile missiles already. Cheap, too. Fire one off that shoots off hundreds of slow burning flares or better yet mini lights, totally random. Anything electro-optical looking in the sky would see quite a few new stars. Duh. Kinetic weapons won't cut it, have to do what the chinese are doing, rapid fire lasers. duh. Your taxmoney at work.duh.

-- obviouscounterploy (layman@toomany.spybooks.read), January 15, 2000.

the logic of its on-board computer told it, "I'm a kill vehicle; I'm going to kill something," the officer said.

Hmmmm...sounds like the work of a graduate of the Redneck School of Computer Programming.


-- FactFinder (FactFinder@bzn.com), January 15, 2000.

Hey Buddy/Factfinder,

Are you a scalawag or a carpetbagger?

I think you are Buddy from DC?

Poor Factfinder, what ya gona do when they come for you?

And THEY will come for YOU Factfinder!

Deo Vindice!,


-- brother rat (rldabney@usa.net), January 15, 2000.

What is this? 'Fess up time for the Pentagon! Maybe we did go into a parallel universe on January 1. A kinder, gentler, more honest Pentagon and government.

-- Sheri (wncy2k@nccn.net), January 15, 2000.

Yeah ... BUT ... it's what they're NOT telling us that bothers me!

-- hiding in plain (sight@edge of.nowhere), January 15, 2000.

Just part of the administrations strategy to goad the Soviet Union in a first strike. Only they are so paranoid they won't take the bait. Jokes on someone, not sure who.

-- Squid (ItsDark@down.here), January 16, 2000.

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