This is Only a Test

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The count-down to Thursday’s test of the ballistic missile defense system has begun. About time, since the last attempted test was 18 months ago.

This is not, however, a full intercept system, as the Los Angeles Times points out:

Military officials are seeking to lower expectations. Although a target missile will be fired from Kodiak Island, Alaska, and an interceptor rocket topped with a “kill vehicle” will launch from California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base, military and industry officials say the goal isn’t to actually shoot down the missile.

“We are not going to try to hit the target,” said Scott Fancher, head of Boeing Co.’s ground-based missile defense program. “It is not a primary or secondary test objective to hit the target.”

That said, there’s a lot on the line with this test, and any mishaps could have serious repercussions for the system — particularly when it comes to divying up money in the next budget.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld took a tour of the Alaska-based site in the run-up to this week’s test. The New York Times made it sound as if Rumsfeld wasn’t as enthusiastic as other officials about the system’s capabilities. I think that’s probably an over-statement — Rumsfeld has long been a leading advocate for missile defense.

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