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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 36, April 1999

Missile Defence Developments

Clinton Backs Congressional NMD Plans

In mid-March, Congress overwhelmingly endorsed legislative language mandating the US to deploy a National Missile Defence (NMD) system. The Senate legislation, adopted 97-3 on 17 March, stipulated deployment "as soon as is technologically feasible", on the understanding that funding for the system had been procured through the usual Congressional appropriations procedures, and that deployment was compatible with the goal and process of working with Russia to reduce strategic nuclear weapons. Because of the attachment of these conditions, the President felt able to support the Senate's position, which he had previously threatened to oppose out of fear that Russia would interpret the move as the prelude to the demise of the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, thus jeopardizing the entire nuclear arms control relationship with Moscow. The Clinton Administration's NMD-policy is that it hopes to make a decision on possible deployments no later than June 2000, and that a commitment to NMD may require negotiated emendation of the ABM Treaty. See last issue for details of the Senate measure, and the President's supportive statement, and issue No. 33 for details of the planned schedule of NMD development between now and June 2000.

Russia and China have reacted with fervent dismay both to the Congressional legislation and the Administration's own plans. In Moscow on 14 April, a joint statement issued by senior Russian and Chinese diplomats and military officials argued: "The fulfillment of these plans would violate the main obligation under the ABM Treaty... [Russia and China] believe that undermining or violating the ABM Treaty would lead to a whole range of negative consequences: new factors would appear that would be capable of destabilising the international situation...and create conditions for the resumption of the arms race..." In Beijing on 23 March, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Sun Yuxi told reporters that US plans were "counter to the trend of the times. ... It will directly affect the nuclear disarmament process and have a far-reaching, adverse impact upon the global strategic balance in the 21st century." And - to choose from many similar expressions of concern - Russia's Foreign Ministry issued a statement on 18 March asserting that the Senate move "poses a serious threat to the whole process of nuclear arms control, as well as strategic stability, for which major international agreements have been worked out for decades. ... Surely the ABM Treaty and the START treaties are two components of one whole..." Defence Minister Igor Sergeyev, however, sounded a less disconsolate note (18 March): "The issue must be studied seriously, and the Senate's decision analysed, but I haven't lost hope. ... It's a flexible statement..."

China is also gravely concerned about the possibility of collaborative theatre ballistic missile defence (TMD) system being developed and deployed in Asia by the US, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. On 7 April, Zhang Jiuhuan, Director of the Chinese Foreign Ministry's Asian Affairs Department, told reporters that Beijing was strongly critical of Japan's willingness to cooperate with the US in the TMD area: TMD, he said, was "both [a] offensive and defensive weapon." And with reference to Taiwan, China's Premier, Zhu Rongji, stated on 19 March that the deployment of any TMD systems on the island would "be an encroachment of China's sovereignty and territorial integrity, as well as interference in China's internal affairs."

THAAD Fails Sixth Test Out of Six

On 29 March, one of the key components of the envisaged US NMD system - the Theater High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile- interceptor - failed its sixth test flight. The previous five tests also ended in failure. The Department of Defense put the following brave face on the news:

"The Ballistic Missile Defense Organization (BMDO) and the US Army announced today that a...[THAAD] interceptor did not achieve intercept of a Hera missile target in a flight test at the White Sands Missile Range, N.M. [New Mexico]. The flight did, however, provide additional data that will be usable in future development of theater missile defense systems. ...

The test occurred at high altitude over the central portion of the White Sands National Missile range. The Hera target, which simulated a Scud ballistic missile such as those seen during Operation Desert Storm, was launched seven minutes before the intercept test. All THAAD elements participated, demonstrating integrated performance of the entire system. This test incorporated an upgraded seeker on the missile and corrected numerous problems encountered on earlier intercept attempts.

Today's test was the ninth in a planned series of THAAD Program Definition and Risk Reduction (PDRR) flight tests to verify the THAAD prototype design and performance of the system components.

THAAD uses technologies developed in earlier BMDO programs. It is the first weapon developed specifically to defend against theater ballistic missiles.

The THAAD system is designed to provide upper tier defense for the Army's two-tier missile defense concept. The high-altitude, theater-wide protection offered by THAAD will provide more protection of larger theater areas than lower-tier systems alone. THAAD is being designed to defend against both short- and medium-range ballistic missiles. THAAD is a completely integrated weapon system consisting of radars; a battle management, command, control, communications and intelligence (BM/C3I0) segment; and launchers and missiles. ...

The program is managed and funded by BMDO. ... Lockheed Martin Missiles & Space is the prime contractor. The Raytheon Co. builds the THAAD radar. ..."

The cost of the test was estimated by the BMDO as $25 million. $15 million of this is to be paid to the Department of Defense by Lockheed Martin.

BMDO Director, Air Force Lt. Gen. Lester Lyles, expressed optimism on 14 April that a seventh test would soon be conducted, at which all would be well. The BMDO was hoping, Lyles told the Senate Appropriations Committee, to "prove very quickly, hopefully within the next 60 days, that the design system is proper and we can proceed with the programme." The sixth test, Lyles added, "came very, very close."

In mid-March, Lyles announced a 'Lean Missile Initiative' designed to reduce the overall fiscal burden of the NMD research and development programme. The initiative, Lyles was quoted by Defense Daily (23 March) as explaining to an audience at the National Defense University, represents "a conscious cultural change in agreement between the government and industry to maintain performance, or increase it and increase quality, but drive down the production of systems and give us what we need at an affordable rate." Lyles added: "I'm convinced that with the help of industry we can get the costs down, and we absolutely have to... [The] systems right now are programmed to cost more than the DoD can afford and we need to work with industry to get those costs down."

Reports: Russia raps US missile defense plans, Reuters, 18 March; Missile defense bill blasted, Associated Press, 18 March; US House approves missile defense bill, joins Senate, Kyodo, 19 March; China blasts US media over missile reports, Reuters, 23 March; China criticizes US missile shield, Associated Press, 23 March; Lyles calls for 'lean missile initiative', Defense Daily, 23 March; THAAD test flight does not achieve intercept target, US Department of Defense Press Release 127-99, 29 March; THAAD missile fails test again, Associated Press, 29 March; Missile defense system test fails, Associated Press, 29 March; THAAD misses the target again, Jane's Defence Weekly, 7 April; China calls TMD offensive weapon, Kyodo, 7 April; Russia, China warns US of arms race, Associated Press, 14 April; Lyles - THAAD failure to cost Lockheed Martin $15 million, Armed Forces Newswire Service, 15 April.

© 1999 The Acronym Institute.

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