The US military successfully shot down a mock nuclear warhead simulating the speed and range of a possible North Korean intercontinental ballistic missile, the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency said Tuesday.
In a statement, the agency said an unarmed missile launched from the Marshall Islands in the Pacific Ocean was destroyed by a ground interceptor launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in Southern California as it traveled outside the atmosphere of the Earth.
The successful test was the first of its kind in almost three years.
It came two days after North Korea tested a SCUD-type ballistic missile that landed in Japan’s maritime economic zone in the Sea of Japan.
This system is of great importance for the defense of our homeland, and this test shows that we have a good, credible deterrence against a very real threat,” said MDA Director Vice Admiral Jim Syring. “I am incredibly proud of the soldiers that this test be performed and that operation of this system every day.”
While Tuesday the test is not designed with the expectation of an imminent North Korean missile threat, the military will be looking for progress in the direction of the stated goal of being able to reliably shoot down a small number of icbms that are targeted on the United States. The Pentagon is in dire need of a success story in the midst of growing fears over North Korea escalates the possibilities.
The $244 million test will not confirm that the U.S. is in a state of defense against an intercontinental range missile fired by North Korea. Pyongyang also needs to be understood as closer to the possibility of a nuclear warhead on such a rocket could have developed decoys refined enough to entice a interceptor in the miss of the real warhead.
Syring, the agency sounded a note of caution.
“The first indications are that the test met its primary objective, but programme officials will continue to evaluate the system performance based on telemetry and other data obtained during the test,” his statement said.
About half of the previous tests of the Ground-based Midcourse Defense system has failed, attracting the criticism of the Government Accountability Office and the Pentagon’s own weapons testing office, which says that the system has a “limited ability” to defend the U.S. against an ICBM attack.
Faced with the prospect of a hostile state, obtaining long-range weapons, the Pentagon can be rapidly deployed to the interceptor system in 2004, long before development and testing were complete.
The Pentagon has other elements of missile defense that have been shown to be more reliable, although they are designed to work at medium-range or short-range missiles. These include the Patriot missile, which many countries have bought from the USA, and the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, which the U.S. deployed this year to South Korea to defend against medium-range missiles from North Korea.
Thirty-six battlecruisers, standing on guard at Vandenberg and at Fort Greely in Alaska. By the end of 2017, the Pentagon plans to have forty-four.
Fox News’ Dan Gallo and Jonathan Hunt contributed to this report. The Associated Press contributed to this report.