Shemya testing bypassed in defense plan

Posted: Friday, September 26, 2003

FAIRBANKS - Thorough testing will not be conducted on radar on Shemya Island before its deployment in a national missile defense system, a congressional agency said this week.

Critics of President Bush's plan to launch a missile defense system by late 2004 said the agency's report shows the administration's goal is unrealistic. Supporters said the lack of a radar test shouldn't be used as an excuse to hamper development of the system.

Defense Department officials said a Shemya radar test, integrated with a missile launch, would be a good idea, but they lack funding and time. Besides, nonintegrated foreign and U.S. missile launches likely will provide usable radar test subjects, they said.

The General Accounting Office, Congress' investigatory arm, said in a report released Tuesday that the military should establish an integrated test for the Cobra Dane radar at Shemya's Eareckson Air Force Station in the far western Aleutian Islands.

Contractors for the Missile Defense Agency are adding computer programs to the radar, which was built to watch for intercontinental missiles coming out of Russia during the Cold War. The new programs will allow the radar to communicate early next year in "real time" with other parts of the proposed ground-based midcourse missile defense system.

Originally, the Cobra Dane upgrades were to enhance the military's North Pacific "test bed" for missile defense. In December 2002, however, Bush said he wanted a working system by late 2004.

Sen. Daniel Akaka, a Hawaii Democrat, said the GAO report, which he requested, indicates Bush is pushing too hard, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported.

"The United States needs a national missile defense system that is effective," Akaka said. "We should not be funding an expensive rush to failure in order to meet an artificial deadline set by the president for October 2004."

Without an integrated test, the GAO said, the missile agency won't be sure the radar really works.

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