Tuesday, September 28, 1999

Navy fires anti-
missile missile from
Kauai waters

Launched from a cruiser,
the Standard Missile 3 flew perfectly,
reports the builder, Raytheon

By Anthony Sommer


BARKING SANDS, Kauai -- The U.S. Navy's first anti-missile missile was launched from a cruiser offshore of Kauai and it flew perfectly, according to the missile's maker.

The Standard Missile 3, which has so far cost more than $1 billion to develop, was fired Friday near the Pacific Missile Range Facility here.

The Navy rocket has not yet been aimed at an incoming missile, however. Friday's test demonstrated the two-stage missile's reliability and it performed "exactly as designed," according to the manufacturer, Raytheon Co.

The Navy is developing two missiles to protect its fleet and ground troops ashore from enemy medium-range ballistic missiles. Both are variants of its Standard Missile, long used to protect ships from enemy aircraft. The missile fired Friday is the Theater Wide Defense weapon designed to knock down incoming missiles 1,000 miles out.

Yet to be tested is the Standard Missile 2 Block IVA, which will be termed an Area Defense missile capable of blowing up hostile missiles 100 miles out.

The Theater Ballistic Missile program is an outgrowth of President Ronald Reagan's never-completed "Star Wars" effort to protect the United States from Soviet missile attack. The current program is designed to protect troops and ships in an action such as the Gulf War.

The Navy has spent at least $33 million to upgrade the tracking equipment at Barking Sands on the west tip of Kauai to conduct the tests. Pacific Missile Range Facility officials invested two years in preparing an environmental impact statement for the testing program.

Kauai government and business leaders are counting on the testing program to bring in more than $2 million a year in new revenue from military and civilian technicians assigned to the island for the tests. All will be housed in Kauai hotels and fed in Kauai restaurants at taxpayer expense.

The use of Niihau to launch target missiles for the Navy to knock down still is being negotiated between the Navy base, the state and the Robinson family, which owns the "Forbidden Island." Environmentalists managed to pressure the Navy into dropping plans to use wildlife refuges at Tern Island and Johnston Atoll as launch sites.

But while the Navy showed it can fire the world's most advanced and expensive ground-to-air rocket just fine, it can't seem to get its press release announcing the flight off the ground. So far, there has been no official word the test ever took place.

The Navy's prepared announcement of the successful flight is still rattling around in the Pentagon awaiting the signatures of several admirals.

"There are a lot of parts to the Ballistic Missile Defense Office and a lot of people have to sign off on it," said a Navy public affairs officer yesterday evening.

"It isn't our program. They're just using our range," said a spokesperson at the Pacific Missile Range Facility yesterday, more or less confirming the flight took place. "There was an operation, I think, on Friday."

News of the test flight came from the Raytheon, which built the missile at its Tucson, Ariz., plant.

"We thought the Navy would have announced the test flight by now," Raytheon spokeswoman Cynthia Curiel said yesterday.

The test flight should have been even more sweet for the Navy because a competing Army program -- the THAAD, or Theater Army Air Defense, missile -- has failed in five of seven test flights. The Army's White Sands Missile Range is littered with pieces of broken THAADs.

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