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The BBC's Jonathan Marcus reports
"Preliminary work at the new test facility... could begin as early as next month"
 real 28k

Wednesday, 11 July, 2001, 14:52 GMT 15:52 UK
Pentagon pushes ahead with missile tests
Model of interceptor gun for defence system
'Son of Star Wars' draws nearer
The Pentagon is to test its interceptor missile capability on Saturday, as part of plans to try out different options for the ballistic missile defence shield system President George W Bush is keen to put in place.

The 2002 US defence budget calls for $8.3bn to be spent on missiles, almost 40% more than this year.

Pentagon diagram of ballistic missile threat
Mapping the missile defence system
Much of this money is earmarked for the construction of test sites in Alaska.

The sites would be used to fire missiles intended to intercept and destroy incoming ballistic missiles.

Past failures

Two out of three previous tests of these land-based interceptor missiles have failed, and US Secretary of Defence Donald H Rumsfeld is said to favour a combination of missile defence weapons which could prove more effective.

These failures led former President Bill Clinton to postpone further action on the programme, arguing that it was not technologically feasible.

Treaty doubts

President Bush has reversed that decision.

He has announced his intention of setting aside the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with Russia, dismissing it as a cold war relic.

Test missile fired from the Vandenberg airbase
Test missile lights night sky
The Bush administration is now planning to go ahead with testing without regard to any treaty limitations.

Critics see this as a way to speed up the missile defence programme while avoiding widespread objections.

If future tests prove successful, the Alaska sites could be operational as part of the missile defence system by 2004.

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20 Jun 01 | Europe
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29 Jun 01 | Europe
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