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CNN: LOU DOBBS TONIGHT June 21, 2006

North Korea / Missile Defense

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DOBBS: President Bush tonight is in the Hungarian capital of Budapest for ceremonies marking the 50th anniversary of the Hungarian uprising against Soviet rule.

The United States tonight says it's prepared to shoot down any North Korean missile that threatens U.S. interests. The Pentagon has deployed a limited missile defense system designed to stop an attack by rogue states such as North Korea. But critics say the multibillion-dollar program is far from ready for battle.

Barbara Starr reports from the Pentagon.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): If North Korea launches its Taepodong-2 long-range ballistic missile, can America's $11 billion missile defense program really work? Could it, if there was an attack, shoot down the North Korean missile? There have been 10 tests of the interceptor. Half of them have worked.

JOHN PIKE, GLOBALSECURITY.ORG: If the missile defense system was a baseball player and had a batting average of .500, you would say it was doing pretty good. If it's only working half of the time, and it's the only thing standing between you and an incoming hydrogen bomb, you would say it's not working very well at all.

STARR: The five tests that failed, one as recently as last February, had a variety of technical problems. Pentagon officials say they are confident the missiles would work during an attack, mainly because there were four consecutive successful hits against target missiles in 2001 and 2002.

Also, much of the technology has been upgraded. But one defense official familiar with the program acknowledged the major criticism, that the testing done so far is not realistic.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All systems are go for launch. Stand by for the terminal count.

STARR: It's all been scripted out ahead of time, as most weapons tests are.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STARR: And, Lou, if North Korea tests its missile in the coming days, do not expect to see the U.S. try and shoot it down, because it is anticipated simply to be a test.

But the U.S. military will begin a new round of its own testing later this summer. They say the new testing of its missile defense shield will be more realistic, and they will be watching North Korea to see what they can learn, to see what additional improvement they need to make here -- Lou.

DOBBS: About 50 percent improvement seems available to them.

Barbara, thank you very much -- Barbara Starr from the Pentagon.

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