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Simulated attacks repelled in antimissile war game { March 17 2004 }

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Simulated Attacks Repelled In Antimissile War Game
U.S. Almost Exhausted Arsenal of Interceptors

By Bradley Graham
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 17, 2004; Page A03

SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo., March 16 -- In a war game run here Tuesday, a country resembling North Korea launched six ballistic missiles at the United States and put to the test an antimissile system modeled after the one being developed by the Bush administration.

The size of the salvo threatened to exhaust the U.S. arsenal of long-range interceptors, which was set at six in the game. When one of the interceptors missed, role players who were standing in for chains of authority stretching from the U.S. president to firing crews were confronted with the possibility that they might not have enough remaining interceptors to save both Anchorage and Boise, Idaho, and would have to choose one of them to protect.

As things turned out, all the enemy missiles were destroyed in flight -- two were hit very early after launch by an airborne laser system -- and a Sophie's choice was averted.

But the simulation highlighted the potential complexities facing U.S. officials as they consider how they intend to use the national antimissile system that, in its most rudimentary form, is scheduled to begin operations later this year.

Lifting a veil on some of the planning to devise operating procedures and rules of engagement for the new system, the Pentagon invited a small group of reporters to view a brief missile defense war game at the Joint National Integration Center.

The center, on this Air Force base in sparsely populated grasslands about 10 miles east of Colorado Springs, is responsible for designing a missile defense simulation dubbed MDWAR and training the military crews that will operate the antimissile system. Here, at computer consoles with displays like those that will be used to monitor enemy missile launches around the world and launch interceptors, senior commanders and field teams can "test drive" the system to learn its probable behavior and refine draft concepts and practices.

The Pentagon's chief weapons evaluator, Thomas Christie, recently called into question the ability of such simulations to predict the system's operation, saying not enough flight test data exist to enable him to validate all of the modeling. But officials here defended their work, saying it is based on years of study and noting that the models have accurately predicted flight performance in a number of previous tests.

The war game played for the journalists was a much-simplified version, shorn of classified details about the antimissile system. It also incorporated elements that will not be part of the initial deployment, including airborne lasers to knock down missiles soon after launch in their "boost phase."

For the near term, at least, the Pentagon intends to rely on a system of ground-based interceptors in Alaska and California that would be carried into space by rockets and would home in on and obliterate incoming enemy missiles. The missiles would be detected by infrared satellites and tracked by early-warning radars in Alaska and California, all linked by a network of battle management computers and communication facilities.

One of the main purposes of the simulation here, officials said, was to demonstrate the short timelines involved in missile defense. War games with actual operators often result in frenzied activity and lots of stress. "It's what war gamers call 'organized chaos,' " said Robert L. McKinney Jr., the center's spokesman.

A missile fired from North Korea could reach the northwestern United States in 25 to 30 minutes. But detecting it and figuring out where it is headed, then computing a course for an interceptor, could require eight minutes or so, officials said.

Complicating matters is the challenge of coordinating various U.S. military commands. While Strategic Command will have responsibility for maintaining the antimissile system, the order to fire will come through Northern Command, which is in charge of protecting U.S. territory. Depending also on where the missile is launched, other regional commands -- Pacific Command in Asia, Central Command in the Middle East -- could be involved.

"The missile trajectories will cross traditional areas of responsibility," said Jim Armstrong, the center's deputy director.

In the scenario prepared for the journalists, a fictitious nation of Midland, in the Sea of Japan and angry at the United States, fired all six of its missiles. The tensest moment came when two interceptors were in the air against two remaining missiles -- one headed toward Boise, the other toward Anchorage.

Only one U.S. interceptor was still available for firing. If the interceptors already airborne missed, U.S. authorities would have to choose between saving either Anchorage or Boise with the one that remained.

Officials said that in real life, factors such as population size would weigh in such a decision. In this case, after the Anchorage-bound missile was hit, the remaining interceptor was fired for extra measure at the Boise missile, although that proved unnecessary.

2004 The Washington Post Company

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