The Pentagon has conducted another successful test of a controversial missile defense system. But officials plan extensive analysis of the test results to determine if there were any hidden problems.
On the surface, the test was a success. A prototype interceptor scored a direct hit on a dummy missile warhead high over the Pacific, ignoring a decoy launched at the same time.
The Pentagon calls the test "a major step" in the program. It was the third successful intercept in five tests. Air Force Lieutenant General Ronald Kadish, director of the missile defense project, is quoted as saying it is "an important achievement" because it will allow researchers to make future tests more complex.
But defense officials also say they plan weeks of analysis of the data received during the latest test. They want to determine whether there were any unreported malfunctions and whether or not all test objectives were met.
They say many complex and sophisticated elements are involved and their performance is as critical as the actual intercept.
In addition to the interceptor, the system under study involves space-based sensors used to detect a missile launch, special radars to provide detailed target data and a battle management command, control and communications system linking the various elements.
The Bush administration wants the missile defense system to deter what it says is a "growing threat of ballistic missiles carrying weapons of mass destruction."
The system is designed to thwart possible launches from so-called rogue states like North Korea or Iraq.
But the U.S. program has drawn fire from both China and Russia, which charge the missile shield will violate the 1972 anti-ballistic missile treaty and trigger a new arms race.
Defense officials reject such charges. They also say the test program does not violate the ABM treaty.