Navy conducts tests onBy Anthony Sommer
BARKING SANDS, Kauai -- The U.S. Navy conducted what it terms "the most complex missile test exercise in history" at its Pacific Missile Range Facility on the west tip of Kauai yesterday and is terming it a success, despite malfunctions of two of the six missiles involved in the test.
The test is a major milestone in the Theater Ballistic Missile Defense program aimed at developing weapons that can knock down enemy missiles aimed at Navy ships or troops ashore. The Pacific Missile Range is the primary test site for the program.
Yesterday's test was conducted as part of the RIMPAC 2000 exercise. Its primary purpose was to test the ability of the warships off Kauai to track and set up firing solutions on incoming enemy missiles.
'Linebacker' test successfulIn particular, the tests were aimed at the abilities of a prototype Theater Ballistic Missile Defense computer program called Linebacker that was installed in the Aegis cruiser USS Lake Erie. The Lake Erie and its sister ship USS Port Royal, both stationed at Pearl Harbor, have been designated as the two primary test ships for the missile defense system.
Navy officials said all early indications were that Linebacker worked perfectly.
No Theater Ballistic Defense missiles, variants of existing Navy Standard anti-aircraft missiles, were aboard the ships. As a training exercise, a Japanese destroyer fired a conventional Standard missile at one of the incoming missiles but it was not expected to knock it down.
Marine Corps missile tracking equipment also was tested from Makaha Ridge on Kauai, real-time data were fed to "virtual ships" in the Atlantic and both Navy and Air Force fighters conducted mock attacks on the missile launchers on Kauai after the missiles were fired.
Contradictory informationThe release of information about yesterday's tests was somewhat contradictory.
Navy officers accompanying reporters invited to the tests told them six missiles -- two from an aircraft, two ground-launched Terrier missiles and two smaller ground-launched Lance missiles -- had been successfully fired. They watched a computer display of what was purported to be all six missiles approaching the ships offshore.
But at a news conference afterward, Rear Adm. Kathleen Paige, who heads the Navy's Theater Surface Combatants office in Arlington, Va., repeatedly referred to only five missiles.
Questioned, she conceded one of the missiles scheduled to be fired from an aircraft had a malfunctioning transponder and was not used. Later, she noted one of the Terrier missiles that had been fired automatically destroyed itself when a malfunction was detected and it never went near the ships offshore.
Her aides repeatedly jumped in and stressed the tests were aimed at the tracking equipment and computer software, not the target missiles.
Paige also revealed there were two major testing programs at the Pacific Missile Range to try out Theater Ballistic Missile Defense components in 1998 and 1999, despite repeated denials from the Navy base on Kauai that any testing on the program had taken place.
The first successful firing of a defense missile from Kauai was in September. A second test is scheduled for next month.