News

Moneyline News Hour with Lou Dobbs
June 10, 1999

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GUIDA:

And in White Sands, New Mexico, the Pentagon finally scored a hit with its costly new missile-defense system after repeated failures.

Aram Roston reports.

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ARAM ROSTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The missile shot out of the mobile launcher. The corkscrew maneuver was to burn off fuel. It hurtled towards space, tracking an incoming test missile. Using thermal imagery, it honed in on a target moving six times the speed of sound.

It smashed into the target on the edge of the earth's atmosphere, almost in space, demolishing the target, officials say, in the technological equivalent of hitting a bullet with a bullet. Thursday was a milestone, officials said, in the costly and controversial effort to intercept a ballistic missile.

BRIG. GEN. RICHARD DAVIS, U.S. AIR FORCE: The technology can work. We've shown it to be able to work. No longer will we say that the design is flawed.

ROSTON: The Theater High Altitude Area Defense System, THAAD, has cost almost $4 billion so far. It had a string of failures before now, sometimes going haywire. Even so, a battalion of troops is already training to use the system without any missiles. It's meant to protect troops in the field from medium-range ballistic missiles.

REP. CURT WELDON, (R), PENNSYLVANIA: I had confidence in our military people. I had confidence in the contractor, even though there were some quality control problems. But today just vindicates what we've been saying all along, we have a program now that can protect America.

ROSTON: Some critics say even with a successful intercept test, programs like THAAD offer only illusions of security.

JOHN PIKE, FED. OF AMERICAN SCIENTISTS: It's a lot easier for them to hit one of our own targets on a test range than it is for them to actually intercept nuclear-tipped missiles in a combat environment.

ROSTON: If there are two more successful tests, the program moves into the next phase. The Pentagon has not yet determined how many tests it will require before full-scale production begins, but it says it wants to be able to deploy the system by the year 2007.

Aram Roston, CNN, Atlanta.

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