ANCHORAGE - The military plans to launch a mock missile from Alaska's Kodiak Island later this month to test radar upgrades in the national missile defense system, a Pentagon official said Friday.
Three additional missiles will be fired later this year from the Kodiak Launch Complex will involve interceptors at California's Vandenberg Air Force Base, according to Missile Defense Agency spokesman Rick Lehner.
The first test from Kodiak this year is scheduled to take place sometime between Feb. 20-23, and will not involve an interceptor. Its purpose is to test upgrades to early warning radar installed during the Cold War four decades ago at Beal Air Force Base in northern California, Lehner said.
"It will increase our knowledge on how this particular type of radar will track missiles," he said. "The goal is faster processing of information. We need missile information very quickly."
Lehner said he didn't have the cost for this month's launch. But the government plans to spend $85 million to $100 million for each of the additional tests involving interceptors from Vandenberg and targets from the Kodiak complex, located at Narrow Cape on the eastern shore of the island.
Under the military program, interceptors would eventually be linked to other components, including satellites, ground- and sea-based radar, computers and command centers. The network would detect and track enemy warheads and launch interceptor rockets to destroy them.
The first of this year's missile-interceptor tests will be conducted in late spring or early summer, Lehner said.
The exercises follow a successful interceptor test in December at Kwajalein Atoll in the central Pacific. Previously, interceptor tests failed five out of 11 times, fueling criticism that the ambitious system had not proven it could succeed in a surprise attack.
After test failures in 2004 and 2005, the Missile Defense Agency's director, Air Force Lt. Gen. Henry Obering decided to step back on installing interceptors at Fort Greely in Alaska's Interior and Vandenberg on the advice of two independent panels commissioned to scrutinize the program. The system's main ballistic missile interceptor site is at Fort Greely, near Fairbanks. Currently there are eight interceptors at Greely, with a total of 40 silos planned. There are two interceptors based at Vandenberg.
The federal government has spent about $100 billion on missile defense since 1983, including $7.8 billion authorized for the current fiscal year. President Bush has requested another $9.3 billion from Congress for the following year.
Despite its multibillion budget, the agency's testing program is far behind what it should be, and it could be decades before it is fully operational, skeptics have said.
But given its testing history, the agency's recent caution is understandable, said Philip Coyle, a former chief of testing for the Pentagon and an outspoken critic of the missile defense system.
"We don't want a repeat of those failures that were embarrassing to them," Coyle said Friday.