National missile defense on track

The technical capability to develop a limited national missile-defense system

is available and the existing schedule to deploy such a system should not

be altered, an independent team of experts concluded in a report released

June 13.

Although the current schedule for fielding a limited NMD system by 2005

"remains high risk," a report by the National Missile Defense Independent

Review Team concluded that there is "no technical reason to change the schedule

at present." The team was led by retired Air Force Gen. Larry Welch, the

president of the Institute for Defense Analyses.

"There has been important program progress in the past year, which includes

a successful intercept, demonstrated integration of several prototype system

elements, and continued development of simulations," the report stated.

The United States has been studying the technical aspects of deploying a

national missile defense system, widely known as "Stars Wars," since the

Reagan administration. 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.

A limited system would be designed to counter missile threats from so-called

rogue states, such as North Korea and Iran, rather than the many thousands

of missiles that could be launched during a nuclear war by Russia.

More than 20 nations, including Iran, Iraq, China and North Korea, have

aggressively pursued the development of weapons of mass destruction and

the means to deliver them across great distances, according to security

experts.

Chief among the criticisms for an NMD system have been a lack of funding,

an unrealistic schedule for deployment and questions regarding the maturity

of the technology and its ability to differentiate between dozens of real

warheads and decoys.

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