Pentagon's missile-defence test successful
The Pentagon carried out a successful test of the missile-defence system planned for deployment to Eastern Europe with a hit over the Pacific Ocean on Friday, dpa reported.
At 3:04 pm EST (2004 GMT) the target missile took off from Kodiak Island, Alaska. Nineteen minutes later, the interceptor missile shot up from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California and smashed into the target about 10 minutes later, at a speed of 24,000 kilometres per hour and 160 kilometres above the Earth.
The test marks the eighth success in 13 tries for the long-range system designed to counter the growing ballistic missile threats posed by Iran and North Korea. The most recent test took place in September 2007. There had been earlier concerns that poor weather over Alaska would force a delay.
The Bush administration has stepped up the controversial development of missile defence, spending about 10 billion dollars annually on various short-, medium- and long-range systems.
The biggest dispute has been over plans to deploy 10 interceptors to Poland and a radar station in the Czech Republic by 2013. Russia has been hostile to the deployment and has threated to target the sites.
The United States maintains the Eastern European locations are needed to counter Iran, while Moscow says Iran's threat is minimal and warns the system poses a risk to Russia's strategic deterrent.
Critics also charge the system is too expensive and faces too many technical challenges. They also argue the tests are not realistic, charges rejected by the Pentagon's Missile Defence Agency.
Richard Lehner, a spokesman for the agency, said the system's crew does not know exactly when the "enemy" launch will take place, and that the missile uses decoys to try to confuse the interceptor as it nears.
"It's very realistic because the target is carrying the type of countermeasures that we would expect from Iran or North Korea," he said. Countermeasures usually include balloons or chaff. Lehner said the decoys for this test were classified.
The United States has spent more than 100 billion dollars in the last few decades on missile defence. The money has also been used to develop short- and medium-range systems, which have proven more effective in testing than the long-range version.
While missile defence has been a top priority for Bush, president- elect Barack Obama could scale back the plans after taking office in January. He has not said whether he will proceed with the deployment to Eastern Europe, and has been sceptical of the long-range system.
Under Bush, a limited missile defence system has been deployed to Fort Greely, Alaska, and at Vandenberg.