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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 14, April 1997

Central US BMD System Fails Latest Test

One of the key components of the US ballistic missile defence (BMD) development programme - the Army's Theater High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system - is reported to be experiencing serious technical difficulties, following the fourth consecutive failed test-flight of its missile interceptor on 6 March. According to Pentagon spokesperson Captain Michael Doubleday (6 March):

"...the intercept was not achieved... [We are] looking at data from the test to determine either the cause or causes for the malfunction. ... It certainly is not the result we had hoped for. ...[this is] a very important program for us and one that we have a lot of interest in pursuing and keeping on track."

On 3 March, a senior scientist at the Defense Department's Ballistic Missile Defense Organisation (BMDO), Douglas C. Kline, referring to the importance of the 6 March test, conceded: "THAAD just needs a hit - that's the bottom line." On 27 February, the Pentagon's Chief of Acquisition and Technology, Paul Kaminski, warned:

"I don't think we're going to see funding for ballistic missile systems that aren't working... Test programs are going to be a very big discriminator."

According to reports, THAAD has been under development since 1990, at a cost of nearly $2.5 billion. The Department of Defense is seeking a further $560.6 million for Financial Year (FY) 1998. The system is reportedly scheduled to become ready for deployment in 2004, two years later than originally envisaged.

The three previous failed tests took place in December 1995, and March and July 1996.

Editor's note: On 3 March, Kaminski urged modest expectations of the BMD system under development:

"It's going to be a thin capability... We're talking about a capability to deal with on [sic] the range of 5-20 missiles... It would be senseless for us to deploy a capability that wouldn't be effective... We haven't even seen the system tested..."

Reports: Kaminski urges caution on NMD deployment, Aviation Week & Space Technology, 3 March; THAAD program future tied to test results, Aviation Week & Space Technology, 3 March; Missile interceptor test fails, AP Washington News Wire, 6 March; Fourth THAAD missile intercept test ends in failure, Armed Forces Newswire Service, 7 March; Theater High Altitude Defense fails in fourth test, For your Eyes Only, 17 March.

© 1998 The Acronym Institute.

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