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U.S. to Begin Missile Defense Deployment
By Charles Aldinger
President Bush Tuesday ordered the military to begin deploying a national missile defense system with 10 interceptor rockets at a base in Alaska by 2004.
The decision comes despite last week's failure of an anti-missile test over the Pacific Ocean.
In a statement, Bush said his goal was to "protect our citizens against what is perhaps the greatest danger of all catastrophic harm that may result from hostile states or terrorist groups armed with weapons of mass destruction and the means to deliver them."
Defense officials, who asked not to be identified said Bush was going ahead with an ambitious schedule to field 10 ground-based interceptors at Fort Greeley, Alaska, by 2004 and an additional 10 interceptors by 2005 or 2006.
Another Bush administration official said the interceptors could also possibly be deployed at Vandenberg Air Force base in California.
"Today I am pleased to announce that we will take another important step in countering these threats by beginning to field missile defense capabilities to protect the United States as well as our friends and allies," Bush said.
"While modest, these capabilities will add to American security and serve as a starting point for improved and expanded capabilities later as further progress is made in researching and developing missile defense technologies and in light of changes in the threat," he added.
Erecting such a shield is the Pentagon's single most expensive development program, likely to cost hundreds of billions of dollars over coming decades.
Last Wednesday, the United States suffered its third failure in eight test attempts to shoot down a long-range dummy warhead in space over the Pacific Ocean, and scientific critics of the multibillion-dollar program have charged it is not yet mature enough to begin deployment.
But Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld have stressed the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and missile technology have sharply increased the need for such a defense against attack from "rogue states" such as Iran, Iraq and North Korea, especially in the wake of devastating attacks on America using hijacked airliners on Sept. 11, 2001.
WITHDREW FROM ABM TREATY
In a first step toward setting up a missile defense umbrella, the United States in June withdrew from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty that banned such systems.
The decision to begin deploying a national missile defense, which has been criticized by Russia and China, follows North Korea's announcement this month that it will proceed with a controversial program to develop nuclear weapons.
The Fort Greeley site would allow the U.S. military to try and intercept any attack by long-range missiles being developed by the North.
The initial deployment would provide the United States - which has been examining several ways to shoot down medium- and long-range missiles in flight - with a limited defense against such attack.
In London, British officials said they had received a written request from the United States concerning its planned missile defense shield but had not yet responded.
Washington wants Britain to upgrade an early warning radar system at Fylingdales in northern England to enhance the program to protect both the United States and allies from attack.
Bush had wanted to put an Alaska-based "test bed" initially with five missile silos and rudimentary operational capabilities against real attack in place by October 2004.
The test bed was the first leg of a planned layered shield against missile attack. Other Pentagon projects involve overlapping systems that could be based at sea, in space and aboard laser-firing modified Boeing 747 aircraft.
For each of the past two fiscal years alone, Bush requested and Congress approved $7.8 billion in research, development and testing funds.