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The BBC's Philippa Thomas
"The setback was welcomed by a convoy of Greenpeace protestors"
 real 56k

Anthony Cordesman, defence specialist
"What failed was actually irrelevant to the technology which was being tested"
 real 28k

Saturday, 8 July, 2000, 18:27 GMT 19:27 UK
US attacked after test failure
Dummy warhead over California
Of three trials so far, two have gone wrong
There has been renewed condemnation of the United States' proposed missile defence, after a $100m test of the controversial system failed.

The question is whether it is worth investing huge sums into the project while the problem could be solved through political means

Colonel-General Leonid Ivashev

Two senior Russian generals said the failure - the second in three tests - showed the technology to be unworkable and a complete waste of money.

Chinese officials also reiterated their opposition to a system which many fear could trigger another global arms race.

Both countries strongly oppose deployment of the system, which would violate the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.

Russian Generals Vladimir Yakovlev and Leonid Ivashov said the system would not be able to secure protection for the United States - something which they said was best achieved through political means.

Before the launch, 50 American Nobel laureates sent an open letter to US President Bill Clinton urging him to abandon the project, which they called "premature, wasteful and dangerous".

Minuteman II blast-off
Blast-off from Vandenburg Air Force base

The failure is being seen as a major setback to Pentagon plans to install a full anti-missile shield over the United States by 2005.

A BBC correspondent in Washington says the failure will lessen the chances of President Clinton giving the $60bn system the go-ahead.

'Work to do'

The test failed because an interceptor rocket designed to destroy incoming ballistic missiles did not succeed in hitting a dummy warhead launched over the Pacific Ocean.

Missile defence countdown
November 1984: President Reagan proposes Strategic Defence Initiative
1998: President Clinton gives go-ahead for tests of a National Missile Defence system
2 October 1999: First full scale test over Pacific ocean succeeds
18 January 2000: Interceptor missile misses target
8 July 2000: Third test fails

The mock Minuteman II warhead, fired from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on Friday evening, should have been hit by the interceptor at a speed of 24,000 km/h (15,000 mph).

"We did not intercept the warhead tonight. We are disappointed," said Lieutenant General Ronald Kadish, director of the missile defence programme, at a Pentagon news conference on Saturday.

He said initial reports indicated that the "hit-to-kill" weapon fired from the Kwajalein Atoll in the central Pacific ocean did not separate from its launch missile.

"It was looking for a second-stage separation signal," General Kadish said. "It did not get that."

He said it would be several days before the Pentagon had a full picture of what happened during the test, but added: "We have more engineering work to do."

"This is rocket science - things do happen."

Test delay?

The Pentagon was planning another test in the autumn, but correspondents say this latest failure is likely to result in further tests being delayed.

North Korean missile
Washington fears North Korean missile attack

A technical problem had earlier caused a two-hour postponement of the launch.

Many commentators in Europe have compared it to former President Reagan's controversial Strategic Defence Initiative, dubbed "Star Wars".

That plan enivsaged a system which could shoot down enemy missiles from space, using lasers.

The Pentagon says its anti-ballistic missile system is less ambitious and is aimed primarily at repulsing attacks by what it calls "rogue states," such as Iraq or North Korea.

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Launch console
See also:

06 Jul 00 | Asia-Pacific
US missiles: China's view
08 Jul 00 | Americas
US missile test fails
07 Jul 00 | Media reports
Text of scientists' anti-missile letter
04 Jun 00 | Europe
Hard bargaining at the Kremlin
01 Jun 00 | Europe
Clinton offers Star Wars deal
23 May 00 | Europe
Bush unveils nuclear policy
28 Jan 00 | Asia-Pacific
US-China military ties 'on track'
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