- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 20, 2000

Faulty sensors on a high-speed missile interceptor caused the failure of the Pentagon's second major test of a national missile defense, defense officials said yesterday.
Preliminary data on the test Tuesday night over the Pacific showed that two infrared tracking sensors failed to guide the "kill vehicle" into a dummy missile warhead launched 20 minutes earlier from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif.
The interceptor missile was fired from Kwajalein Atoll and came within seconds of hitting and destroying the dummy warhead, military officials told reporters at the Pentagon.
An earlier missile test in November was a success, with the interceptor and test warhead impacting at speeds of 15,000 mph.
Despite the interception's failure, Pentagon officials said they were able to collect valuable data on the components of the developing national missile defense against incoming warheads.
The system of satellites and ground-based early warning radar successfully tracked the test missile and relayed the data to a battle management system that directed the high-speed, interceptor kill vehicle toward the target.
"You start off with the satellite sensors telling the ZIP code, while the [X-band radar] … got us to the street address. What we failed to do is ring the doorbell," one senior military official said.
During the test, the target missile deployed a dummy warhead and a "balloon" decoy designed to fool the interceptor.
All the components functioned properly until about eight seconds before the interceptor was to collide with the target.
After a 20-minute flight, the radar at Kwajalein tracked the target earlier than expected, the military official said.
The interceptor missile was fired and maneuvered en route to the target after using stars as a guide.
"We get to the end-game, it appears … that there was an anomaly or an issue with the IR sensor packages IR being the infrared," the senior military official said.
"And as we're sitting there at 29 minutes, 49 seconds after the target lifted off, there was not the bright flash that we saw on the first one."
The official said the information from the test is "extremely good." All signal information from the test missiles worked, the radar and tracking equipment functioned properly, and the airborne and space sensors all were active.
The test failure has increased pressure on the Pentagon to meet a tight schedule for the program.
Despite signing legislation into law last year saying it is U.S. policy to deploy a national missile defense as soon as possible, President Clinton will not decide on deployment of a system until July.
The Pentagon, however, has added $2.2 billion for national missile defenses in the next budget to be made public in the next several weeks.
Keith Payne, a missile defense specialist, said the test failure is unfortunate but does not mean the missile defense program will not succeed.
"If we went back and looked at previous weapons systems, we've had failures before successes in the past," Mr. Payne said. "If we stopped in midstream, we'd be making a big mistake."
Mr. Payne noted that during World War II, Britain's "chain home radar system" failed every test but was deployed anyway and helped London win the Battle of Britain.

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