By Tony Capaccio
May 29 (Bloomberg) -- U.S. ground-based interceptor rockets would “likely” knock out a long-range North Korean missile before it could reach the American mainland, the Pentagon’s independent testing official said today.
“I believe we have a reasonable chance” of an intercept, Charles McQueary, director of operational test and evaluation, said in an interview as North Korea defied international condemnation of a nuclear test with another short-range missile launch.
“I’d put it ‘likely’ -- than ‘highly likely’ -- as opposed to putting it ‘unlikely,” he said on his last day in office after almost three years as the top weapons evaluator for the Defense Department.
McQueary’s office monitors and critiques the effectiveness of the nascent Boeing Co.-managed $35.5 billion ground-based system of what is now 28 interceptors placed since mid-2004 in silos at Fort Greely, Alaska, and Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.
North Korea on April 4 attempted to launch a satellite on what some analysts said was a three-stage rocket capable of carrying a warhead that might reach the U.S. The reclusive regime has launched six short-range missiles this week that, while not able to strike the U.S., have refocused attention on American defenses.
Preparations at Site
A defense official in Washington said there is no major movement of personnel and equipment at a North Korean site to suggest that a second long-range missile launch is imminent. The official said there is activity that points to possible preparations for a launch by August.
“There’s been very little testing so far” of the U.S. ground-based system compared with other missile-defense platforms, such as those on ships, McQueary said. “I wish we were further along, but we are not.”
Still, “if North Korea launched a missile or two against us, we wouldn’t sit back and say, ‘I wonder if we have enough test data in order to launch,’” McQueary said. “We would launch.”
In that scenario, the U.S. would likely launch multiple rockets at the incoming missile to raise the chance of an intercept, he said.
The ground-based Midcourse Defense system is a network of interceptor rockets linked by satellites, radar and communications networks. Chicago-based Boeing is the prime contractor. Northrop Grumman Corp., Raytheon Co. and Orbital Sciences Corp. are the top subcontractors.
The ground-based system, counting a December test, has had eight successful intercepts in 13 attempts since 1999.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates limited the number of interceptors that will be placed in the ground to 30 from 44 in April as part of an overhaul of defense programs. Gates said 30 is an adequate number to handle a North Korean threat.
To contact the reporter on this story: Tony Capaccio in Washington at email@example.com.
Last Updated: May 29, 2009 17:40 EDT