ICBM killer's test launch splits Tucsonans

7th July 2000

Arizona Daily Star (Tucson)

"These people are just wrong when they say there's no threat."

Sen. Jon Kyl
Member of Senate Select
Intelligence Committee

"It's terribly unethical to me. It's 'anti-' what I'm striving for in my life spiritually.'"

Robert Menard, 78


Tonight's Pentagon test launch of an anti-missile defense system sharply divides two camps of Tucson residents: One group that designed part of the system, and another that worries it will heighten the arms race.

They represent a clash of values between those who see ballistic missile defense as a means for protecting American people from nuclear attack, and those who say running the arms race promotes war.

Raytheon Missile Systems Co. - Tucson's largest private employer - built the 55-inch "exoatmospheric kill vehicle." It's scheduled to shoot off Kwajalein Atoll in the South Pacific, streak into space and decimate a mock warhead launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The test is set for sometime between 7 and 11 tonight.

The $100 million test comes amid a fresh barrage of charges by some U.S. experts that it will not work and will undermine U.S. national security. "The system would offer little protection and would do grave harm to this nation's core security interests," said a letter to President Clinton from 50 Nobel Prize-winning scientists. They urged him not to authorize the deployment of the system even if the test tonight succeeds.

The Pentagon said final preparations were going forward and that weather appears good for the test.

If all goes well, the interceptor, called a kill vehicle, will distinguish between a Mylar balloon decoy and the mock warhead and head for the warhead.

It will then vaporize the warhead in a collision 144 miles above the Earth. It will take scientists up to two weeks to analyze the results and report them to Defense Secretary William Cohen, who will recommend later this summer whether to proceed with building the first phase, in Alaska, to combat potential threats from countries including North Korea, Iran and Iraq.

Tonight's test will be the third full-scale trial of the system's tracking satellites, prototype ground-based radars and prototype interceptor. The first, in October, succeeded. One in January failed due to a coolant leak in the interceptor.

The Pentagon originally said two out of the three tests would have to succeed for Cohen to recommend to Clinton that he proceed with the system's deployment. But in recent weeks, defense officials have said Cohen could still give the go-ahead if this test fails.

Some scientists have criticized the program, saying it suffers flaws that will prevent it from achieving its goal of protecting all 50 states. The system is intended to defend against limited nuclear, chemical or biological attacks by countries developing long-range missiles, such as North Korea.

The 50 Nobel laureates warned that building the system would ignite a new arms race with Russia and China. Both nations fear the system is aimed at them and have threatened to deploy more nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missiles so they could overwhelm it.

The scientists also said no technology exists that would enable the kill vehicle to keep ahead of improvements to offensive missiles. Their letter, calling deployment premature and wasteful, was sponsored by the Federation of American Scientists, a Washington, D.C.-based arms-control organization.

Pentagon spokesman Kenneth Bacon said developing a national missile defense system poses difficult technical challenges, but Cohen "is confident his team is following a systematic and reasonable course to solve these problems."

Officials say the full system could blunt attacks of up to 50 warheads. In a telephone interview yesterday, U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., said the United States is anticipating the threat of a ballistic missile attack by countries like North Korea, Iraq and Iran in the next five years. Kyl said there's also government concern about China.

Raytheon Peacemakers

Kyl's outspoken support for the system was protested yesterday by a small but committed group that calls itself the Raytheon Peacemakers. The demonstrators turned out yesterday morning at Raytheon's Tucson plant on South Nogales Highway and local offices of Arizona congressional members, voicing opposition not only to the missile interceptor Raytheon built, but to the full system that would cost $60 billion over five years.

"These people are just wrong when they say there's no threat,'' Kyl, a member of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee, said. "For having the background for making those assessments, I think the president and the secretary of defense and all the Joint Chiefs are in a better position to be doing that.''

For the past year the protesters have been holding vigils outside Raytheon on the second Monday of each month.

"We feel they need to know the public is not totally supporting the work they do,'' said Pat Birnie, 70, a former General Electric worker who is now a full-time peace and environmental activist.

Birnie was arrested and convicted earlier this year for trespassing at Raytheon and sentenced to 15 hours of community service. "Raytheon used to make wonderful products for public consumption. But now it's weapons. We don't call it defense, since the more weapons we have, the more it makes people in other countries feel less secure. Then they upgrade, and the arms race goes on forever.''

"We have no gripe against the Raytheon employees,'' Birnie said. "We know they have to earn a living for their families. Indeed, at our monthly vigils we sometimes get thumbs-up from employees. I think many of them wish they could do another type of work.''

"Most of our allies are very against the U.S. pursuing Star Wars,'' Felice Cohen-Joppa, 41, said yesterday as she stood at the side of South Nogales Highway holding a sign saying, "Star Wars: Bad Science, False Security.'' "We're going totally against international will by pursuing defense.'' Cohen-Joppa and her husband, Jack, edit and publish an anti-nuclear and anti-war newsletter called the Nuclear Resister.

Although Raytheon officials said the missile interceptor is solely for killing other missiles, not people, protester Robert Menard, 78, said he could never work for a company that makes weapons. "It's terribly unethical to me. It's 'anti-' what I'm striving for in my life spiritually,'' said Menard, a retired Los Angeles schoolteacher who served with the Marines in World War II.

"I'm not bitter against the people here. Poor souls, jobs are scarce in Tucson. Especially well-paying jobs.''

"An honorable thing to do"

Kyl said opinion polls indicate that a vast majority of American people support U.S. protection from a world missile threat. And he said: "If it's unethical to protect the U.S. people from being killed, they may have an argument. But a lot of good people in this country are working in defense jobs, and it's an honorable thing to do.''

Raytheon spokeswoman Colleen Niccum had no comment about the protesters. But she offered an explanation of the company's role. "We produce products that defend the freedoms of the U.S. and its allies, as well as those who are oppressed and cannot defend themselves,'' she said.

This report contains information from Arizona Daily Star reporter Stephanie Innes, Knight-Ridder Newspapers, and the New York Times News Service.

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