Defense plan not ready for takeoff

GAO says missile system needs to be tested in realistic conditions

April 25, 2004|By AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

WASHINGTON - Key elements of a U.S. national missile defense system scheduled for initial deployment later this year have not been tested under realistic conditions, making it difficult to assess their ability to perform, U.S. congressional investigators have found.

The conclusion made by the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, comes as the Bush administration is forging ahead with deployment of the multi-layered system designed to protect the United States from missiles launched by rogue states such as North Korea and Iran.

The plan calls for deploying the first 10 missile interceptors at Fort Greely, Alaska, and Vandenberg Air Force Base in California by this September and doubling their number by December 2005.

However, the GAO report made public late last week casts doubt about the effectiveness of the initial deployment because of testing deficiencies and production delays.

Although the Pentagon is trying to make flight tests as realistic as possible, "these tests will not be conducted under the unscripted conditions that characterize operational testing," the report said.

Moreover, technical problems and production delays were likely to result in failure to meet initial deployment goals, the investigators predicted.

Only five missile interceptors are expected to be deployed by September, and the deployment of all 20 kill vehicles by December 2005 is "uncertain," the report warned.

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