US, Russia launch joint missile-warning centre

Building on the success of a joint Year 2000 venture, Pentagon and Russian military officials have signed an agreement to build a high-tech centre near Moscow where both sides can monitor the globe for ballistic missile launches.

Senior officials from both countries signed an agreement to build the centre - which will be called the Joint Data Exchange Centre - only days before President Clinton met with Russian President Vladimir Putin at a summit in Moscow on June 4.

The two countries plan to complete construction of the $7 million centre by June 2001. The new facility will be housed in a renovated schoolhouse located north of Moscow and will be modelled on the Year 2000 Centre for Strategic Stability that military officials from the United States and Russia established last year in Colorado Springs, Colorado, to reduce the risk of an accidental nuclear missile launch during the Year 2000 transition.

Air Force Master Sgt. Larry Lincoln, spokesman for the North American Aerospace Defense Command, said the training, experience, time and money that went into the Year 2000 effort laid the groundwork for the JDEC.

"The mission hasn't changed," he said. "We've done this once, so we'll take the lessons learned and use that as a building block for a more permanent effort to continue providing stability in uncertain times."

The two countries will assign about 16 military personnel to the center, where they will monitor detailed information on the status of each other's missile launches via desktop displays, according to a senior DOD official.

"We have Russian data coming in, going to a Russian display [and] US data coming into a US display, and both sides can look at and correlate it visually," the official said. The official, who spoke on background to reporters at the Pentagon, added that although the information provided by each country will be unclassified, it "will be processed in a way to reveal a generic class of information," including launch time, launch point, rough direction, impact point and impact time. Eventually, video monitors will pipe data from the displays back to the national warning centers in both countries, he said.

Once construction of the facility is complete, officials will begin a three-phase plan for building a complete shared early warning system, the Pentagon official said. The first two phases will focus solely on missiles from the United States and Russia and the two countries' reporting procedures.

During Phase 3, however, which is expected to be reached within a few months after the completion of Phase 1, both sides will focus on sharing information on missile launches that may be conducted by rogue states, such as North Korea and Iran.

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