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San Diego Union-Tribune
March 22, 2000

Pentagon Lowers, Meets Criteria For Missile Defense

By Stephen Green, Copley News Service

WASHINGTON -- After guaranteeing it will be able to meet its own conditions for deploying a limited missile defense system, the Pentagon yesterday lowered its testing requirements to the level already reached -- one intercept.

With only one hit achieved so far, Air Force Lt. Gen. Ronald T. Kadish, director of the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization, said the two intercepts originally listed as a requirement for deployment no longer are technically necessary.

"The one intercept that we have . . . successfully made so far allows us, in our own criteria, to proceed with the award of the construction contracts," Kadish said.

Kadish appeared before reporters at the Pentagon to announce a two-month delay in the next test of the anti-missile system, a development that could make it more difficult for President Clinton to make the politically sensitive decision on deployment before leaving office.

Both the delay and abandoning the two-hit requirement are certain to be used as ammunition by critics of the $12 billion program who complain that testing has been rushed.

"It would be a bad career move for anyone at the Pentagon to tell the administration what it doesn't want to hear," said John Pike, a military expert with the Federation of American Scientists. "Even the original criteria were very modest and forgiving."

The Pentagon previously had described two intercepts of a dummy warhead in space by a so-called "kill vehicle" as the minimum for telling Clinton that it is feasible to have a system operational by 2005 as a shield against a missile attack from rogue states.

The first intercept occurred in October, but questions have been raised about whether the kill vehicle would have hit the target if it had not closed on the dummy warhead by mistakenly locking onto a decoy balloon.

A subsequent test -- last month -- missed. The miss was attributed to a blockage in the equipment for cooling infrared sensors that are supposed to detect the target.

"We also set about 999 other criteria that we're watching very closely, so this becomes an integrated assessment of many factors, not only the outcome of the flight tests," Kadish said. "We're making technical progress."

The next test -- postponed until June 26 -- originally was scheduled for April 27, allowing the Pentagon time to make a recommendation in June and permitting Clinton to make a deployment decision this summer.

The delay means Clinton will not be able to decide until the fall, Kadish said, but it is still soon enough for awarding contracts to allow construction to begin on a radar site in Alaska next spring.