- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 6, 2003

The latest gambit of the never-say-die opponents of missile defense is to argue that more time and tests are needed. Over the years, opponents have agreed to research, development and even testing of missile defenses, but have steadfastly opposed actually deploying them.
Wedded to the concept of mutual assured destruction, they said defenses were destabilizing. And besides, they claimed, deployment would be expensive, implying that it might draw money away from their favored social welfare programs.
Arguing that missile defenses should not be deployed before completing more testing is the same as arguing that Iraq should not be invaded before undergoing more inspections. Both missile testing and inspections of Iraq have gone on for a long time. Opponents of action against Saddam Hussein really don't care whether he disarms, just as opponents of missile defense really don't care about testing. What they want is to procrastinate indefinitely to block what they don't like.
The testing issue arose after President Bush said in December the first 20 interceptors of a national missile defense would be put in the field in Alaska and California in 2004 and 2005 as part of an operational test facility that could defend the country if necessary. This will be the first deployment of a national missile defense. And it is none too soon, considering the recent revelation by CIA Director George Tenet that North Korea now has the capability of reaching the U.S. mainland with ballistic missiles that can carry nuclear weapons.
There have been 10 flight tests of the missile defense system to be deployed, of which eight were intercept attempts. Of those, five succeeded. There is solid confidence that the key hit-to-kill technology works fine and that the minor problems encountered are being corrected. The effort now is to complete development and testing of a new booster rocket for use in the operational system.
Flight tests of two new boosters are being conducted this year, with intercept tests suspended until the boosters are ready. Despite the call of critics for more intercept tests before deploying anything, Lt. Col. Rick Lehner of the Missile Defense Agency says the effort is on track and "there is nothing to preclude operational fielding of up to 10 missile (interceptors) by the end of 2004."
In order to get new weapons through the lengthy development process and into the hands of the warfighter, the Pentagon is adopting a new way of acquiring weapons called "evolutionary spiral development." This involves moving a new weapon into the field early and using it in operations for realistic and rigorous testing, then developing its capabilities further on the basis of that experience.
This is a departure from the slow, methodical method of testing new weapons for many years before going into production. It often takes decades to get new weapons into the field, an untenable situation when there is a current threat such as that presented by North Korea. In a Feb. 13 hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said, "In the case of missile defense, I think we need to get something out there, in the ground, at sea, and in a way that we can test it, we can look at it, and find out learn from the experimentation with it."
The Democrats' answer came a few days later in a letter to Mr. Rumsfeld from Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, who wrote, "If anything, [missile defense] should be required to meet more stringent test standards than normally required." In other words, don't deploy anything that might defend the country until it has been tested forever. This was followed quickly by supporting articles in the Los Angeles Times and New York Times, the two press voices most stridently opposed to missile defense.
Then there appeared quotes from Philip Coyle, President Clinton's director of testing at the Pentagon, who said, "Without these tests, we may never know whether this system works or not." This ignores the test results to date, and the fact that missile defenses will undergo continuous testing over many years. What's more, the weapons initially deployed are to be improved through block upgrades every two years.
When Mr. Rumsfeld appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee, he was grilled on deployment plans by Sens. Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat, and Jack Reed, Rhode Island Democrat, longtime critics of missile defense. But the letter to the Pentagon was signed by Mrs. Feinstein, considered a moderate Democrat, to give it the appearance of broader support. That will not work, because her image is changing. On Feb. 26, Mrs. Feinstein attacked Mr. Bush in what was reported as "an unusually hard-edged speech," in which she called for more time for weapons inspections in Iraq and accused the president of making the world "more dangerous, not safer."
What is dangerous is the Democrats' call for extensive additional testing before putting defenses in place. Their latest argument is just more of the same old opposition. It should be ignored.



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