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Sunday, 15 July, 2001, 15:40 GMT 16:40 UK
Analysis: Long road to missile defence
Greenpeace protesters outside US embassy, Athens
Critics say the project could trigger a new arms race
By BBC News Online's Laurence Peter

The Bush administration will be relieved that the latest test of US anti-missile technology was successful, but officials have stressed that there is still a long way to go.

Lieutenant-General Ronald Kadish, head of the Pentagon's Ballistic Missile Defence Organisation, called it "one step on a journey" towards building a multi-layered anti-missile shield.

Two of the previous three tests failed. And the other test was only partially successful.

Saturday's carefully structured fourth test was a long way from a realistic simulation of a surprise attack.

No deployment schedule

The Pentagon has not announced a schedule for deploying any of the systems under development. But it plans to have "interim" missile defence capabilities in place by 2004.

Vapour trail left by target vehicle - a modified Minuteman II missile
Missile experts say the test did not infringe the ABM treaty

Philip Coyle, a former director of weapons testing at the Pentagon, says there will have to be "many more tests - probably a couple of dozen more tests like this one, each one becoming more difficult".

Only if they are successful will the developers be able to proceed to the next phase of "realistic operational tests".

These will involve simulated surprise attacks, where the missile trajectories are not known in advance, "perhaps in the middle of the night or in bad weather, operated by real soldiers and sailors," Mr Coyle says.


Critics say the Bush administration's decision to step up the development of a missile defence system is politically risky and they doubt whether it will ever be effective.

We've got a long road ahead in all of the missile defence activities

Lt-Gen Ronald Kadish, Pentagon

Bob Sherman, head of the Strategic Security Project for the Federation of American Scientists, says the technology is impressive but "as a security device it's pretty far from meaning anything".

"At the end of the day the problem is not a missile but a weapon - a nuclear weapon or biological weapon. And a missile is a very poor way to deliver that," he told the BBC.

A hostile regime targeting the United States would do better to use "a ship or cargo plane with a missile in it - more accurate, cheaper, more reliable and less traceable," Mr Sherman said.

And a realistic simulation of a missile attack would involve multiple warheads coming from various directions, with many decoys and possibly pre-emptive strikes on radar sites, according to Mr Sherman.

He dismissed talk of an "interim" missile defence shield by 2004 as "entirely a political exercise".

More tests

General Kadish admitted that the results of Saturday's test would take up to two months to analyse fully and "in all probability" some of the objectives were not met.

Russia stands by its position that it is vital to maintain and strengthen the ABM treaty

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Yakovenko

In September, testing will begin on a ship-based system.

Eventually trials will also begin on a massive laser mounted on a jumbo jet.

Russia, China and some of Washington's Nato allies have voiced concern that the missile defence project threatens arms control treaties, notably the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.

But the US Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, has said Washington has no intention of violating the ABM treaty soon.

According to Mr Sherman, Saturday's test was permitted under the ABM treaty. But it is hard to predict how many tests will fall within the terms of the treaty, as those terms are disputed , he says.

See also:

15 Jul 01 | Americas
Russia condemns US missile test
13 Jul 01 | Americas
Critics take aim at missile defence
12 Jul 01 | Americas
Death throes of ABM treaty
13 Jun 01 | Europe
Bush upbeat on missile defence
29 May 01 | Europe
Nato baulks at US missile plan
15 May 01 | Asia-Pacific
US meets China over missile defence
15 Jul 01 | Americas
Demonstrators 'delayed' missile test
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