U.S. fixing anti-missile technology

Published: Friday, November 1, 2002 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, October 31, 2002 at 10:12 p.m.
WASHINGTON - The Pentagon is working to solve problems with its most advanced anti-missile rockets and increase production so the newest Patriots will succeed where their predecessors didn't in destroying Iraqi Scuds, the Missile Defense Agency chief said Thursday.
Lt. Gen. Ronald Kadish said the United States has only about 40 of its most advanced Patriot missiles to defend against short-range ballistic and cruise missiles. Experts suspect Iraq has several times that many Scud and other missiles, which could be topped with chemical or biological warheads.
Earlier versions of the Patriot missile failed to stop deadly Iraqi Scud attacks against Israel and U.S. positions in Saudi Arabia during the 1991 Gulf War. The latest Patriot is meant to overcome those shortcomings, but a round of operational tests this year ended with many of the rockets failing to fire or missing their targets.
Kadish said the problems have been fixed and the Pentagon needs many more of the advanced Patriots to counter threats from North Korea, Iran and Libya as well as Iraq.
The main contractors on the latest Patriot, known as Patriot Advanced Capability 3, can make two of the rockets per month, Kadish said. The Pentagon hopes to speed up that process, but doing so will take time, he said.
"My recommendation is to buy PAC-3s as fast as we are able to buy them," Kadish said. Outside experts estimate each rocket costs about $2.7 million, although that cost drops as the production increases.
Congress has already approved increasing PAC-3 production, adding $50 million to the $622 million the Pentagon originally requested for the program for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1. Pentagon officials have told Congress they plan to shift another $120 million from other missile defense programs to the PAC-3.
Kadish called this year's PAC-3 test problems "extremely annoying" and said they included improper soldering of electronic components.
"I am very confident we have those problems fixed," Kadish said. The PAC-3 missiles already manufactured have been retrofitted to fix the problems, he said.
The PAC-3 missile is designed to shoot down cruise missiles and ballistic missiles with a range of 620 miles or less.
Those include the Scud missiles that Iraq used a decade ago during the Gulf War. The United States believes Saddam Hussein still up to two dozen of them. Iraq also has an unknown number of missiles with ranges of 95 miles or less. Iraq was allowed to continue making them under U.N. sanctions imposed after the Gulf War.
Iraq's shortest-range missiles can easily hit Kuwait, where thousands of U.S. troops are massing in preparation for a possible invasion.
The United States has batteries of Patriot II missiles in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and other countries in the region, but some Pentagon planners worry there aren't enough Patriots stationed there to shoot down all the missiles Iraq has. The United States has nearly 500 Patriot batteries and thousands of the missiles but they are spread widely around the globe.
Israel, hit by 39 Iraqi Scuds during the Gulf War, also has Patriot missile batteries, plus stocks of the Arrow anti-missile system developed with the United States. The United States has pledged to help defend Israel against Iraqi missile strikes in case of a war to topple Saddam, possibly including supplying more anti-missile weapons to Israel.
North Korea is one of America's biggest missile threats, Kadish and other U.S. officials say, because it is developing long-range missiles and has been willing to sell its missile technology to virtually any country with the cash to pay for it.
Kadish said the United States is concerned by evidence that North Korea is continuing to develop long-range missiles that could hit U.S. territory.
North Korea said last month it would extend a flight test moratorium on long-range missiles through 2003, but it also has said the moratorium will apply only if talks with the United States move forward.
The bilateral relations were scrambled by North Korea's early October acknowledgment that it had a program aimed at enriching enough uranium to make nuclear weapons. The CIA believes North Korea already has one or two plutonium-based nuclear weapons.
A test of the long-range Taepo Dong 2 missile could increase North Korea's pressure for U.S. concessions, intelligence officials said.
The two-stage Taepo Dong 2 could hit Alaska, Hawaii and possibly the western continental United States. A three-stage version, which would be more difficult to engineer, could hit targets anywhere in the United States, intelligence analyses say.
That's a big reason behind the U.S. drive to build an anti-missile testing facility in Alaska, which within two years will have five prototype interceptors in silos near Fairbanks.
While the prototypes would provide a "residual capability" against North Korean missiles, the United States would not rely on them alone, Kadish said.
"Along the way, if we get threatened by North Korea, I think the American people understand we would not just sit by with five missiles in the hole and do nothing," Kadish said.
North Korea has sold missile expertise and equipment to Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Libya and Egypt, U.S. intelligence officials say.
Iran's Shahab-3 missile program is believed to be based on North Korean No Dong missile technology. The missile, still in testing, would enable the Iranians to strike Israel and U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia and parts of Turkey.
"Iran continues to test, continues to make progress," Kadish said. "They're moving from the capability of having very good systems in the short range to intermediate and long-range missiles."
Kadish said he also worries about Libya. "The Libyans have been pretty active in trying to get missile capability, and not just short-range," Kadish said. "They have enough money to buy it. Their indigenous capability is not as good as they thought it was."

Reader comments posted to this article may be published in our print edition. All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be re-published without permission. Links are encouraged.

Comments are currently unavailable on this article

▲ Return to Top