- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 7, 2006

For the last 18 months, opponents of a national missile defense have proclaimed the ground-based defenses being deployed in Alaska and California won’t work. The successful intercept last Friday shows they are dead wrong.

It was the first flight test in a year and a half of the big ground-based interceptors now protecting the country against missiles from the unpredictable North Korean regime, as well as deterring missile threats by China. The results could not have been better. The incoming mock warhead was struck and destroyed in a ball of fire, even though an intercept was not planned.

The test was to demonstrate the overall ability of the missile defense system, to conduct the first launch of an interceptor from a silo at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, against a missile coming from Kodiak, Alaska, and to verify that the command, control and communications network operates as intended. It also was to see if the sensors on the interceptor’s kill vehicle could spot the missile, distinguish between its rocket booster and warhead, and communicate effectively with ground stations. It did all of these and more — it hit the target.

Prior flight tests had fired interceptors from Kwajalein Atoll in the Pacific against missiles coming from California. But the threat is from the other direction, so this test used an interceptor based in California against a missile coming from the Northwest. Also, for the first time the recently upgraded 10-story Pave Paws early warning radar at Beale Air Force Base north of Sacramento was used to transmit data on the incoming missile to the interceptor in flight.

The last two tests of the national missile defense, in December 2004 and February 2005, did not go as planned. In both cases the interceptors failed to launch because of minor defects, which were quickly identified and fixed. Those failures did not stop the deployment of interceptors — 11 are now in place in Alaska and two in California — because the basic technology had been proven in four successful intercepts in earlier flight tests.

Nevertheless, the two failures gave critics the opportunity to claim the system did not work. But Missile Defense Agency director Lt. Gen. Henry Obering insisted it would: “We can protect the entire United States from both California and Alaska from a North Korean threat.” Now he has been proven right.

Last year a review panel recommended more rigorous testing with interceptors that duplicate those deployed in operational silos. Congress helped by adding $150 million for more ground-based interceptors to the 2006 defense appropriation. And Gen. Obering diverted some interceptors scheduled for deployment to use for tests.

The result is that in last week’s test an operationally configured interceptor was fired from an operational missile defense site against a target missile similar in size and speed to the kind of single-warhead missile North Korea is believed to have. And the target came from the direction of the actual threat, making the test highly realistic. Future tests will be even more realistic.

The national missile defense system is a network of radars, space- and sea-based sensors, interceptors, long-distance communications links, command-and-control facilities, and other elements, all controlled by the mission control center in Colorado Springs, Colo. In this test, the integration worked successfully to identify, track, and destroy a potential threat to the United States.

North Korea’s July Fourth attempt to launch a long-range Taepodong-2 missile, despite international diplomatic efforts to prevent it, and the North’s suspected plan to conduct a nuclear test, show the nature of the threat and the need for these defenses. While the Taepodong-2 exploded in flight, North Korea will learn from that test and the next one may well succeed.

Those who oppose missile defense claim it costs too much. But the annual expenditure of about $10 billion for missile defense is less than 2 percent of all defense spending, which now exceeds $500 billion a year. And only about one-third of the $10 billion is spent on the ground-based defense that now protects this country. The successful intercept shows it is a good investment.

James Hackett is a contributing writer to The Washington Times and is based in Carlsbad, Calif.

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