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Tuesday, 17 December, 2002, 20:21 GMT
Bush gives go-ahead to missile defence
Test launch from Vandenberg AFB, Ca
There have been eight tests so far
President George W Bush has ordered the American military to begin deploying a limited system to defend the United States against ballistic missiles.

The plan calls for 10 interceptor missiles to be ready by 2004 - a "modest" capability that would serve as a starting point towards better defence, Mr Bush said in a written statement.

President George Bush
The United States will take every necessary measure to protect our citizens

George W Bush

The decision comes days after the latest failure of an anti-missile test over the Pacific Ocean.

Despite this, the programme is gathering pace, with Mr Bush also requesting the use of facilities in the UK and Greenland on Tuesday.

In June, the US withdrew from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty it signed with the Soviet Union, a constraint on its ability to test new anti-missile defences.

Washington has insisted that a missile defence system could significantly reduce that threat from what it calls "rogue states" - including Iraq, Iran and North Korea.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said the announcement had nothing to do with North Korea's reactivation of its nuclear programme, but was part of a well-known plan and was based on scientific progress.

Getting started

The initial deployment of 10 interceptors in 2004 is to be followed by another 10 a year later. They will include ground-based interceptors, sea-based interceptors, additional Patriot (PAC-3) units, and sensors based on land, at sea, and in space.

Mr Bush described these facilities as a "starting point for improved and expanded capabilities later as further progress is made in researching and developing missile defence technologies and in light of changes in the threat".

There have been eight tests of interceptor missiles so far. Three have failed.

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

But Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld said the US was not going to wait until something was completely done "in 20 years". It had to put in an initial capability, and then learn through both successes and failures.

"When it finishes some day... it very likely will look quite different than it begins. And it very likely will have layers. And it very likely will involve a variety of different locations. And it will very likely involve the participation of a number of countries," Mr Rumsfeld said.

Map of missile defence shield plans
The missile shield is well beyond the planning stages
Some experts say that, given the variety of threats facing the US, the money could be better spent on countering terrorism rather than missile attack.

But BBC defence correspondent Jonathan Marcus says that, with sufficient time and money, the Americans will come up with a working system.

The US has requested to update two early-warning radar stations for the programme - the Fylingdales base in Britain and the radar station at an American Air Force base in Greenland.

"The government will now consider the US request very seriously, agreeing to it only if we are satisfied that it will ultimately enhance the security of the UK and the Nato alliance," UK Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon said in a statement.

The BBC's Gavin Hewitt
"Work has already started on building a missile shield"
The BBC's Michael Buchanan
"The ground-based missiles could be augmented by an additional ten interceptors by 2006"
US Missile Defence

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17 Dec 02 | Americas
17 Dec 02 | Politics
11 Dec 02 | Americas
16 Mar 02 | Americas
13 Jun 02 | Americas
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