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– Frank von Hippel
Co-Director of Program on Science and Global Security, Princeton University
NMD Sensor Test Successful
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After two aborted test attempts in midJanuary and subsequent delays, the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization (BMDO) on June 24 conducted the first flight test of an exo-atmospheric kill vehicle sensor for the Clinton administration's national missile defense (NMD) program. BMDO has characterized the test as successful based on the available data thus far.

According to BMDO, the test sought to assess the ability of the sensor, which was developed by Boeing North American, to track and identify objects in outer space—not to intercept a ballistic missile target. The test involved a modified Minuteman II ICBM carrying simulated targets and launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, and a payload launch vehicle (which contained the sensor) launched from Kwajalein Missile Range in the central Pacific Ocean.

Under its so-called "3-plus-3" program, the Clinton administration is developing the initial elements of an NMD system by 2000, at which time it will evaluate the long-range ballistic missile threat to the United States and have the option of deploying such a system by 2003 if necessary. If the threat does not warrant NMD deployment in 2000, the administration will continue the development of its NMD system while maintaining a rolling three-year deployment capability. The next NMD flight test, scheduled for January 1998, will evaluate a competing sensor built by Hughes Aircraft. Thereafter, two NMD intercept attempts are planned for 1998 followed by an integrated system test in 1999.