Interactive: How a missile shield works

updated 4/21/2004 6:55:20 PM ET 2004-04-21T22:55:20

The United States is on track to activate a limited ballistic missile defense system by the end of the year, giving the country the capability to take on such threats, the program’s director said Wednesday.

Lt. Gen. Ronald Kadish, director of the Missile Defense Agency, told a Senate Appropriations subcommittee that he expects to meet President Bush’s goal of having 20 interceptors in place by the end of 2005, including a few that would be operational this year.

“It’s still a major challenge for us over the next six months to do this, but right now what I see is we will have up to eight by this calendar year and 12 the following year available for alert capabilities,” Kadish said.

He said the system would provide a “capability to defeat near-term threats of greatest concern.”

North Korean threat
The initial system of interceptors would be placed in Fort Greely, Alaska, and Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., reflecting the perceived threat of North Korean intercontinental ballistic missiles.

Kadish acknowledged the system will not guarantee a total defense against enemy missiles.

“If 100 percent sure is the standard, we’re not going to meet it,” he said.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., a critic of the $10 billion-a-year program, asked whether Kadish could guarantee 50 percent success rate. Kadish declined to answer publicly but said he would brief her in private.

Terrorist threat?
Feinstein and Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., suggested the most imminent threats come from terrorists using unconventional means. Dorgan said that a missile warhead was the least likely nuclear threat.

“Perhaps the most likely threat is from a suitcase nuclear weapon in a rusty car on the dock in New York City,” Dorgan said.

Kadish said it’s impossible to predict what method terrorists will use.

“It is a very difficult job to know what’s likely and what’s unlikely, what our adversaries are going to do to defeat us,” Kadish said. “We make those judgments, but we’ve got to do it with the idea there’s risk involved.”

Republican members of the panel defended the program’s cost and timetable.

“You can’t rush technology, but you can certainly advance technology by putting research and testing money into it,” said Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala.

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