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Saturday, 16 March, 2002, 03:25 GMT
US missile test is a hit
Test launch from Vandenberg AFB, Ca
Earlier tests have had mixed success
The United States military has carried out a successful test of its new missile defence system.

A dummy warhead was launched over the Pacific Ocean at 2111EST (0211GMT Saturday), and was hit by a ground-launched missile 20 minutes later.


Intercept was achieved at 9.41pm (EST)

Cheryl Irwin
US Defense Department spokeswoman
The US military now has a four-out-of-six success rate over three years.

Russia and China are strongly opposed to the National Missile Defence (MND) programme but the US says it is necessary for protection against "rogue states" such as North Korea, Iraq and Iran.

Washington announced in December that it would withdraw from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty, signed with the former Soviet Union, prompting renewed fears in Moscow.

Ignore decoys

As in earlier tests, the dummy warhead was fired from Vandenberg Air Force base in California.

The interceptor was launched from Kwajalein Atoll, 7,700 kilometres (4,800 miles) away in the Pacific.

This test involved a complex examination of the system's capabilities.

The dummy warhead was accompanied by three balloons, to simulate the decoys which hostile countries might fire during a missile attack to confuse US defence systems.

The previous two tests used only a single decoy balloon.

But the interceptor successfully picked out the mock warhead from the three decoys.

The test cost more than $100m.

Next phase

The Pentagon now hopes to move on to a further, yet more sophisticated phase of testing.

Although the details of that plan have not been released, it is understood that it would contravene the ABM treaty.

President George W Bush cleared the ground for this advanced phase of tests by announcing in December that the US was withdrawing from the treaty.

The government's initial aim is to have some elements of the missile defence system functioning by 2004, though many observers believe the technological hurdles involved are too great.

There has been considerable scepticism that the eventual goal, of a comprehensive shield capable of protecting the US from any missile attack, will ever be achievable.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Jeremy Frankel
"The two missiles collided high in space"
The BBC's Annita McVeigh
"Testing has been going on since 1999"
See also:

12 Dec 01 | Americas
Analysis: ABM treaty withdrawal
17 Dec 01 | Asia-Pacific
China voices fears over ABM treaty
13 Dec 01 | Americas
America withdraws from ABM treaty
03 Dec 01 | Americas
US missile shield test postponed
08 Jul 00 | Americas
US missile test fails
15 Nov 01 | Americas
No Bush-Putin missile agreement
13 Jul 01 | Americas
Q & A: Son of Star Wars
15 Jul 01 | Americas
Russia condemns US missile test
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