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Failure sets back missile defense plan

Interceptor never launches in first test in two years

Updated: 4:49 p.m. ET Dec. 15, 2004

WASHINGTON - President Bush’s drive to deploy a multibillion-dollar shield against ballistic missiles was set back Wednesday by what critics called a stunning failure of its first full flight test in two years.

The abortive $85 million exercise raised new questions about the reliability of the first elements of the plan, an heir to President Ronald Reagan’s vision of a space-based missile defense that critics dubbed “Star Wars.”

The interceptor missile never left its silo at Kwajalein Atoll in the central Pacific, shutting itself down automatically because of an “anomaly” of unknown origin, the Missile Defense Agency said.

About 16 minutes earlier, a target missile had been fired from Kodiak, Alaska, in what was to have been a fly-by test designed chiefly to gather data on new hardware, software and engagement angles, said Richard Lehner, a spokesman.

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