Clinton gives missile defense program boost

The Defense Department last week nearly tripled the budget for developing a national missile defense (NMD) system, but warned that the decision to go forward with such a system depends on whether the technology is capable of supporting it.

Speaking at a Pentagon news briefing, Defense Secretary William Cohen said DOD's fiscal 2000 budget will include an additional $6.6 billion for an NMD system, bringing the total amount budgeted for the program to more than $10 billion—nearly three times the original amount budgeted.

The United States has been studying the technical aspects of deploying an NMD system, which started out as the widely known "Stars Wars" program under President Reagan. NMD would consist of a series of networked ground-based radar systems and early-warning satellites designed to detect the launch of an intercontinental nuclear missile.

Cohen also announced a new deployment date for the system, signaling a reversal of the DOD's 3+3 plan.

"Instead of projecting a deployment date of 2003 with exceedingly high risk, we are now projecting a deployment date of 2005 with a much more manageable risk," Cohen said.

However, Cohen added that a final decision to deploy would be contingent upon the maturity of the technology involved and would not be made before June 2000. "Our NMD development must have proceeded sufficiently so that we are technologically able to proceed," he said.

In February 1996, DOD established the current NMD schedule, called "3+3" because it calls for the development of information technology needed to field a basic NMD by 1999 (1996 plus three years) and the ability to field a fully capable system within three years' notice of a potential missile launch capability by another country.

Lt. Gen. Lester L. Lyles, director of the Ballistic Missile Defense organization, echoed Cohen's concerns, calling the integrated command, control, communications, computers and intelligence underpinnings of the proposed NMD architecture "the critical glue that holds all this together in terms of interoperability."

"We've put the money into the budget...in order to support deployment activity [and] that essentially leaves one major thing, and that is are we technologically ready to be able to deploy such a system," Lyles said.

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