Pentagon declares ship-based anti-missile rocket test a success

Saturday, January 26th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The first test of an anti-missile rocket fired from a Navy ship into space to knock down a dummy warhead was a success, the Pentagon says.

An interceptor rocket launched from the USS Lake Erie slammed into a dummy warhead fired from off Hawaii at 9:18 p.m. EST Friday, Defense Department spokesman Maj. Mike Halbig said. The collision took place more than 300 miles northwest of Hawaii, Halbig said.

The test was delayed for four hours Friday to allow a ship with a medical patient to cross the test area.

The missile exercise was the latest in a series of tests being conducted to develop several ways to shoot down long-range missiles fired at the United States. President Bush announced last year he was pulling the United States out of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty, which bans such anti-missile systems.

Critics say the missile defense program is too expensive and unrealistic, arguing that the few countries with the technology to threaten the United States could find ways to defeat missile defenses.

Friday's test was the first to send an interceptor fired from a ship at sea into space to collide with a dummy missile. Other tests have used interceptor rockets launched from land.

The latest test was designed so that the anti-missile ``kinetic warhead'' was virtually guaranteed to smash into the dummy missile. Officials said the test was intended to evaluate the interceptor's guidance systems and was not meant to be a realistic test of whether a ship-based interceptor could knock out an enemy missile.

Advantages of a ship-based anti-missile system would include the ability to move around to counter a threat from virtually anywhere in the world. Having anti-missile rockets aboard Navy ships also would eliminate the need to base them in another country.

``There's global coverage, and it's very flexible,'' said Chris Myers, director of missile defense programs for Pentagon contractor Lockheed Martin in Morristown, N.J.

Lockheed Martin makes the Aegis radar systems aboard the Lake Erie and 56 other Navy ships. The Aegis system helps guide the anti-missile rocket to its target.