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Testing Continues on Missile Defense System

NewsHour correspondent Jeffrey Kaye of KCET-Los Angeles provides an update on the military's defense against missile attacks, including efforts to shoot down missiles aimed at the United States.

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  • JEFFREY KAYE, Reporter, KCET:

    On a recent pre-dawn morning at the White Sands Missile Range in southern New Mexico, onlookers gathered to observe a test of a missile defense system.


    Plus one, plus two…


    From about 130 miles away, a Hera rocket was launched to simulate an attacking missile. Soon afterwards, an interceptor missile, part of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD system, soared into the sky.

    Minutes later, the THAAD interceptor did exactly what planners hoped it would do in a real battle. Just inside the Earth's atmosphere, it smashed into the opposing rocket, leaving a luminous cloud of debris in the sky.

    The THAAD system is just one component in a massive effort to test and build a defensive weapons system to shield America and its allies from ballistic missile attacks.

    It's a system that received close attention in the wake of missile test launches by North Korea on July 4th. Of the seven weapons tested, one was a new, long-range Taepodong-2 missile, a weapon which might have the range to reach Alaska or Hawaii. Three days after the North Korean tests, President Bush expressed cautious confidence in America's ability to defend itself against missiles such as the Taepodong-2.

    GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States: Our missile systems are modest. Our anti-ballistic missile systems are modest. They're new. It's new research. We've gotten — testing them. And so I can't — it's hard for me to give you a probability of success.


    Pressed to elaborate, the president gave a more upbeat assessment.


    Yes, I think we've got a reasonable chance of shooting it down. At least that's what the military commanders told me.