- WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The
United States shot down a cruise missile with a Patriot PAC-3 missile over
New Mexico on Saturday in a successful test of its ``theater'' defense
program to protect troops and bases from attack, the Pentagon said.
- It was the fourth successful ``hit-to-kill'' intercept
in a row and the first against a low-flying cruise missile for the upgraded
version of the Patriot, which was used against Iraqi Scud missiles in the
Gulf War. The PAC-3 had earlier hit three Hera ballistic missiles at the
edge of space.
- ``We had a successful intercept,'' Jen Canaff, a spokeswoman
for the Pentagon's Ballistic Missile Defense Organization, told Reuters
after the Patriot tracked and shattered an MQM-107 cruise missile over
White Sands Missile Test range in New Mexico.
- The Pentagon said preliminary data indicated that the
17-foot (5.2 meters) PAC-3 shattered the droning target missile at 8:15
a.m. Mountain Daylight Time (10 a.m. EDT/1415 GMT).
- Unlike the three earlier tests near the edge of space
over the past 16 months, Canaff said Saturday's intercept occurred at an
altitude below 40,000 feet (12,192 meters).
- Slow-flying but highly accurate cruise missiles can attack
at ground-hugging altitudes as low as 50-feet (16 meters) above the Earth,
but the Pentagon said the specific altitude of Saturday's intercept was
- Unlike a controversial planned U.S. National Missile
Defense (NMD) effort to protect the whole country from long-range attack,
the ``theater'' program is designed to protect U.S. troops and bases from
short- and medium-range ballistic and cruise missiles and aircraft.
- The PAC-3 is being developed by Lockheed Martin Corp.
Boeing Co. makes the ``seeker,'' which guides the Patriot to a target,
and Raytheon Co. provides integration for components of the system.
- A series of a dozen more tests of the upgraded Patriot
are scheduled through next year in the U.S. development of several theater
missile defense systems.
- The Army and the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization
conducted three successful intercepts by the PAC-3 of higher-flying Hera
ballistic missiles in March and September of last year and again last February.
- At the same time that U.S. theater anti-missile systems
are being developed, the Pentagon and aerospace firms are conducting research
on weapons that could result in a limited NMD shield designed to protect
U.S. cities from any future missile attack from states like North Korea,
Iran and Iraq.
- Russia and China are opposed to NMD, and critics of the
plan say a recent test failure high over the Pacific Ocean -- the second
miss in three tries -- proves the system cannot work.
- President Clinton, under pressure from NMD supporters
to proceed with the plan and critics to delay a decision, plans to decide
later this year whether to take the first step and begin building an advanced
radar for the system on wind-swept Shemya Island in Alaska next year.
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