Pentagon Defuses Missile-Defense Criticism

WASHINGTON (06/29/2000) - Amid mounting criticism that the U.S. Department of Defense is planning to move forward on a multibillion-dollar national missile-defense system that may not be technically feasible, senior Pentagon officials went on the offensive this week to dismiss what one official called "destructive and distracting misconceptions" about the program.

Jacques Gansler, undersecretary of Defense for acquisition and technology, told the House Armed Services Committee during a hearing Wednesday that allegations charging that the Pentagon has engaged in fraud and deception during NMD tests "are blatantly untrue."

During his testimony, Gansler outlined what he characterized as five of the most pervasive misconceptions about the NMD program, including:

* That the system can be easily fooled by decoys.

* That the Pentagon has made the decision to deploy the system with too few tests under its belt.

* That officials have rigged previous tests for success.

* That the Pentagon's plan to intercept incoming missile in mid-course is not necessarily the best or most cost-efficient plan.

* That the system simply will not work.

The system's ability to differentiate between decoys and real warheads has "been one of the earliest design considerations" of the NMD system, Gansler said. In fact, the first two tests were designed merely as fly-by tests to help the Pentagon "calibrate" the command and control software, he said.

Gansler also addressed concerns about testing, ensuring lawmakers that the Pentagon's decision to deploy the NMD system is not a one-test decision. DOD has scheduled 17 more flight tests of the system prior to the system reaching its initial operating capability, he said.

The Pentagon has spent US$5.5 billion on research and development of the proposed NMD system since 1991. DOD estimated that the final cost will be $20 billion when the 100 intercept rockets are completed in 2007. However, some observers have estimated the total cost of the program at $60 billion.

During the hearing, Rep. Herbert Bateman, a Republican from Virginia, asked retired Air Force Gen. Larry Welch if he thought the technology behind the NMD system can work. Welch, president of the Institute for Defense Analyses and the Pentagon's point man for the independent NMD assessment, said that although his studies have been used by NMD supporters and detractors, "we believe the technical capability is here."

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