A crucial test of a sea-based missile defense system flopped yesterday. The USS Lake Erie was supposed to use the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) to knock down an Aries target missile over the Pacific Ocean, near Hawaii. But it missed, for the first time in four tries.It's a setback for a program considered crucial by the Defense Department. With a sea-based system, there are no thorny issues about putting another American base on foreign soil, Victoria Samson, a missile expert at the Center for Defense Information, tells Defense Tech. And the defenses can be moved around to guard against whatever trouble spot happens to be inflamed at the moment.The Aegis BMD is suppoed to take down short to intermediate-range missiles while they're taking off. But the system, as current configured, doesn't meet that goal, Samson says."It's not meant to intercept missiles during their boost phase - it's nowhere near fast enough," she adds. "To have a boost-phase capability, you'd have to build a whole new missile and reconfigure the ships to be able to carry them."The problems faced by the Aegis BMD are to be expected, Samson continues. And they could be worked out over time -- if the Bush administration would allow it. Instead, the White House has insisted that 20 interceptors be added to three cruisers by the end of fiscal year 2004.THERE'S MORE: Defense officials are already squabbling over why the test was a dud, reports the Washington Times' Bill Gertz.AND MORE: Slate has a hilarious -- and disturbing -- send-up of the missile test, and the Pentagon flacks who are calling it a "success."

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