Low-Tech Glitch Leaves High-Tech Void

WASHINGTON (07/10/2000) - A malfunction in a routine rocket booster procedure sabotaged the latest test flight of the national missile defense system on Saturday, robbing the array of high-tech sensors and command and control systems of a critical opportunity to demonstrate the soundness of the Pentagon's NMD plans.

"Everything appeared to be on track with the launch in the battle manager-type systems, the integrated part of the system," Air Force Lt. Gen. Ronald Kadish, director of the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization, told reporters at the Pentagon shortly after the test. "We launched the interceptor. But we failed to have the kill vehicle separate from the booster second stage."

The test involved the launch of a modified Minuteman target missile from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. About 20 minutes later the Pentagon launched an interceptor missile from 4,300 miles away, in the Kwajalein atoll in the Marshall Islands. The plan, according to the Pentagon, was to knock the incoming missile out of the sky about 100 miles above the Pacific Ocean.

NMD critics have complained that the Pentagon's tests are designed to help the system succeed and that the planned system will not work against easy-to-manufacture countermeasures. But even the Pentagon's planned use of a balloon-wrapped decoy failed on Saturday.

"What it tells me is we have more engineering work to do," said Kadish of the failed test. "And as we've said all along, this is a very difficult, challenging job.

"This is rocket science, so there's a lot of things that can happen in this process," he said. "In this particular case it appears it happened in an area that has little to do with the functionality of the key component of the system that we're testing."

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