Strategic Weapons: January 19, 2000


  The Pentagon admitted on 14 Jan that the October test of the missile defense system was not quite as successful as first claimed. The interceptor "kill vehicle" could not navigate by the stars because the wrong star map had been loaded into its memory. Once it reached close enough range to detect the target, it locked onto a decoy balloon (which was there specifically to determine if the interceptor could tell it from the real warhead). The kill vehicle quickly established that the balloon was not a valid target and began searching for the real warhead without finding it. Finally, running out of time, the kill vehicle locked back on the balloon. [Its software is designed to deliberately kill a decoy if it cannot find the real target; this would at least make the job of a second follow-up interceptor that much easier.] At the last second, the real warhead appeared in the interceptor's viewfinder and the kill vehicle diverted to slam into it. --Stephen V Cole


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