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Pentagon expanding missile shield

/ Source: The Associated Press

The military will install a long-range missile interceptor in a silo at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., next Tuesday, the Pentagon said.

The interceptor is part of the Bush administration’s missile defense program, designed to shoot down incoming ballistic missiles fired from North Korea or elsewhere in eastern Asia.

It is the first interceptor to be placed at Vandenberg. Six other interceptors are already in place at the primary site in Fort Greely, Alaska; the Vandenberg site will receive a second missile this month.

The multibillion-dollar system is still being tested. The military has no date set to activate the missile defenses, but says it intends to put them on alert by the end of the year.

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 Fort Greely. It also will rely on early warning satellites to detect missile launches.

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 to 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 will be ready to function in a crisis.