President Bush announced plans to begin fielding a rudimentary system for defending the United States against missile attack, with an initial 10 land-based interceptors to go in Alaska and California in 2004.
The announcement put Bush on record for the first time committing to a specific deployment date and defining an initial system of missile defense. Pentagon officials stressed that the program would have very limited capability at first, aimed largely at knocking down any North Korean missiles. Many more years of development and testing will be necessary, they said, to provide a truly comprehensive U.S. anti-missile shield.
But the president's initiative represents a significant expansion over previous administration plans, which had foreseen simply a testing facility at Fort Greely, Alaska, before the next presidential election.
Essentially, Bush has decided to turn the test facility into an actual missile defense site and also equip Vandenberg Air Force Base in California with some missile interceptors to shoot down enemy warheads carried by long-range rockets. Under the plan, the Pentagon will also step up efforts to deploy ship-based and land-based interceptors to defend against shorter-range missiles.
To finance the project, defense officials said the administration would be seeking an extra $1.5 billion over the next two years, on top of $16 billion previously projected in that period for this and other missile defense projects.
Russia criticized the decision and said that it will impede the fight against terrorism and lead to a "new senseless arms race."
-- Bradley Graham