Pentagon defuses missile-defense criticism

Amid mounting criticism that the Defense Department is planning to move

forward on a multibillion-dollar national missile-defense system that may

not be technically feasible, senior Pentagon officials went on the offensive

this week to dismiss what one official called "destructive and distracting

misconceptions" about the program.

Jacques Gansler, undersecretary of Defense for acquisition and technology,

told the House Armed Services Committee during a hearing Wednesday that

allegations charging that the Pentagon has engaged in fraud and deception

during NMD tests "are blatantly untrue."

During his testimony, Gansler outlined what he characterized as five of

the most pervasive misconceptions about the NMD program, including:

* That the system can be easily fooled by decoys.

* That the Pentagon has made the decision to deploy the system with too

few tests under its belt.

* That officials have rigged previous tests for success.

* That the Pentagon's plan to intercept incoming missile in mid-course is

not necessarily the best or most cost-efficient plan.

* That the system simply will not work.

The system's ability to differentiate between decoys and real warheads has

"been one of the earliest design considerations" of the NMD system, Gansler

said. In fact, the first two tests were designed merely as fly-by tests

to help the Pentagon "calibrate" the command and control software, he said.

Gansler also addressed concerns about testing, ensuring lawmakers that the

Pentagon's decision to deploy the NMD system is not a one-test decision.

DOD has scheduled 17 more flight tests of the system prior to the system

reaching its initial operating capability, he said.

The Pentagon has spent $5.5 billion on research and development of the proposed

NMD system since 1991. DOD estimated that the final cost will be $20 billion

when the 100 intercept rockets are completed in 2007. However, some observers

have estimated the total cost of the program at $60 billion.

During the hearing, Rep. Herbert Bateman (R-Va.) asked retired Air Force

Gen. Larry Welch if he thought the technology behind the NMD system can

work. Welch, president of the Institute for Defense Analyses and the Pentagon's

point man for the independent NMD assessment, said that although his studies

have been used by NMD supporters and detractors, "we believe the technical

capability is here."

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