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Pentagon moving too fast on Ballistic Missile Defence

Tester Says Pentagon Moves Too Fast

By Robert Burns
AP Military Writer
Monday, Feb. 14, 2000

WASHINGTON -- The Pentagon is moving too rapidly toward a recommendation to President Clinton on whether its national missile defense project is ready for deployment, the Pentagon's chief weapons tester said Monday.

In a report to Congress and Defense Secretary William Cohen, Philip E. Coyle, director of testing and evaluation, questioned Cohen's plan to review the project's status in June. On the basis of that review Cohen is to make his recommendation to the president on whether to move ahead with deployment.

The schedule for a June review puts "unrealistic pressure" on the project's managers, Coyle wrote.

The system as envisioned by the Pentagon would use a network of radars and silo-based interceptor missiles to detect, track and shoot down long-range ballistic missiles outside the Earth's atmosphere. Congress has required the administration to deploy such a system as soon as technologically feasible.

Noting that Cohen so far has said he intends to stick to the June timetable, Coyle wrote that "undo pressure has been placed on the program to meet an artificial decision point in the development process."

Tom Collina of the Union of Concerned Scientists, a leading critic of national missile defense, said of Coyle's conclusion: "He's exactly right." Collina credited Coyle with "very interesting honesty" in telling Congress and Cohen that the timetable for decisions on missile defense has become too compressed.

So far there have been two tests of the system's ability to intercept a target missile in space. The first, last fall, was successful. The second, in January, was not.

The next test - scheduled to be the last before the June readiness review - is unlikely to take place before mid-May, although no firm date has been set.

In light of the failure of the January test, Coyle said, more time should be allowed for analyzing the results of the next test before Cohen makes his recommendation to the president. He did not say how much more time was needed, but normally the analysis takes two months.

Thus if the next test were in May, the review in preparation for a recommendation to Clinton would not be done before July.

"This would provide a clear technical understanding of the results and avoid forcing the (readiness review) before the analysis is complete," Coyle wrote.

The Pentagon has budgeted $12.7 billion for the national missile defense project over the next five years. Coyle's report says that if the system is deployed in 2005, as called for in the current schedule, the total cost - including development, production, construction and operating it for 20 years - would be $26.6 billion.

*** NOTICE: In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. ***

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