Strategic Weapons: January 25, 2000

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MISSILE DEFENSE FAILS TEST: The 18 Jan test of an exoatmospheric kill vehicle failed when the infrared seeker system shut down six seconds before impact, leaving the target (launched from Vandenberg AFB, California) and interceptor (launched from Kwajelein atoll in the Pacific) to sail past each other. The rest of the system worked as planned, including the powerful new X-band radar prototype, the computerized battle management system, the tracking radars, and the early warning satellites. The interceptor launched successfully, separated properly from its booster, scanned the stars twice to check its own position, and detected the oncoming target. But the seeker simply quit working for reasons no one can explain before the intercept was made. The intercept test cost $100 million. The interceptor is 55 inches long, weighs 121 pounds, and is built by Raytheon. This is a setback for the controversial system, intended to begin deploying 100 interceptors in Alaska sometime in 2005. The next test is set for April; President Clinton is scheduled to make the deployment decision in June. This was the second test; the interceptor destroyed the target in the first test (although it was aimed directly for it and had only minimal maneuvering to do). Republican presidential candidates Bush and McCain both favor deploying the system as quickly as possible. Democratic candidate Bradley opposes it, considering the US nuclear arsenal adequate as a deterrent. Vice President Gore says that several factors, including cost and geopolitics, must be considered. --Stephen V Cole

 


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