updated 10/8/2004 7:59:30 PM ET 2004-10-08T23:59:30

The military has begun a series of exercises with its national missile defense system to move it a step closer to activation.

The exercises involve testing crews and activating the network of sensors and command centers to ensure they transfer information properly, Rick Lehner, a spokesman for the Missile Defense Agency, said Friday.

“No problems have cropped up,” he said.

Although five ballistic missile interceptors are in their silos at Fort Greely, Alaska, they are not yet operational because their arming pins have not been removed, so the system is not considered “on alert” yet, Lehner said.

The exercises, each of which can last several hours, have been under way for about a week, Lehner said. They will continue for several more weeks.

The military has no date set to put the missile defenses on alert but still expects to by the end of the year. Once the system is fully activated, the interceptors will be capable of launching during an ICBM attack from eastern Asia.

The system includes a tracking radar on the Aleutian island of Shemya in Alaska, an early-warning radar at Beale Air Force Base, Calif., and command centers at Colorado Springs, Colo., and at Fort Greely. It also will rely on early-warning satellites to detect missile launches.

Additional interceptor missiles will be placed at Greely and at Vandenburg Air Force Base, Calif.

A Navy destroyer has begun patrolling the Sea of Japan with an upgraded Aegis radar capable of tracking North Korean missile launches and feeding information into the missile defense network.

Critics say the system has not been tested properly and has yet to prove it would work in a crisis. Military officials describe the system as still experimental but insist it would be capable of firing in a crisis.

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