Successful test boosts hopes for Bush's defense plan


WASHINGTON (AP) The Pentagon's successful missile defense test bolsters President Bush's hopes for building at least a rudimentary defense against ballistic missile attack on the United States and its allies by 2004.

The destruction of a mock warhead in space by a missile interceptor launched from Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands was an important step for the Pentagon's missile defense effort, but must be followed by more successes in more frequent and more realistic tests, officials said.

The success late Saturday night followed two dramatic test failures during the Clinton administration.

''This test is just one on a journey, one stop on a journey,'' said Air Force Lt. Gen. Ronald Kadish, head of the Pentagon's missile defense programs. He held a news conference at the Pentagon less than an hour after the collision of the interceptor and its target created a huge white flash in space.

''We will press on to the next test,'' he said.

That test, scheduled for October, may include some additional complexities, such as extra decoys aboard the target missile. In Saturday's test, just one decoy was used.

A White House spokeswoman said the president was pleased with the result.

Russia, however, renewed its warning that Bush's missile defense plans will hurt global security rather than boosting it by threatening the structure of nuclear disarmament treaties.

Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin are expected to discuss missile defense and existing arms control pacts when they meet this coming weekend in Italy at a gathering of leaders of the world's industrial powers.

The successful intercept provides a political boost for a project that some congressional Democrats believe risks upsetting relations with Russia and China, and has the potential to create a new arms race.

''They hit a bullet with a bullet, and it does work. We can develop that capability,'' said Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., on ''Fox News Sunday.''

One skeptic, Sen. Joseph Biden, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, congratulated the military while cautioning that ''it's not a real world test yet. And we have a long way to go, and we should continue to pursue it.''

Bush has asked Congress for $8.3 billion to finance missile defense research and testing in 2002, a $3 billion increase over this year. Saturday's test cost about $100 million, Kadish said.

''We should put this right at the top of the agenda,'' Lott said.

Biden, D-Del., was more cautious. ''We don't know what his program is yet,'' he said on Fox. Asked if the spending request was worthwhile, Biden responded: ''It depends on what he's going to use it for. The answer is maybe.''

The intercept was the Bush administration's first test of the ''hit-to-kill'' technology it hopes will become a key element of a missile defense network. Of three previous tests in 1999 and 2000, two failed and one succeeded.

The administration also is exploring the feasibility of other missile defense weaponry, including an airborne laser, ship-based missile interceptors and space-based weapons. The system tested Saturday, using a land-based interceptor to hit the target during the midcourse of its flight, is the most technically advanced.

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