US to attempt first ICBM intercept test

US to attempt first ICBM intercept test
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The Pentagon will attempt to shoot down an intercontinental missile for the first time in a test next week, with the goal of preparing for such a strike from North Korea, ABC News reported.

The Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency on Tuesday will shoot an interceptor from the Ground-based Midcourse Defense system — a network meant to protect the country against a limited nuclear attack — at a custom-made missile meant to simulate an ICBM.

The target is not a mock-up of an actual North Korean ICBM, Christopher Johnson, spokesman for the Missile Defense Agency, told ABC.

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The interceptor will be launched from an underground silo at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., and fly toward the target, fired from a test range on Kwajalein Atoll in the Pacific.

“We conduct increasingly complex test scenarios as the program matures and advances,” Johnson said Friday. “Testing against an ICBM-type threat is the next step in that process.”

North Korea does not yet have the technology to reach the West Coast with a missile, but the military is preparing should it happen.

The test follows a successful North Korean launch Sunday, during which the country fired a medium-range ballistic missile that landed in the Sea of Japan. 

The Associated Press reported Monday that North Korea is ready to begin the mass production of its new missile, which could reach Japan and major military bases. 

Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Vincent Stewart, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, said this week that “left unchecked,” a North Korean missile will eventually be able to reach the United States.

Officials said the test was not scheduled with an imminent North Korean threat in mind, but it will be closely watched as to whether it shows progress compared to past tests. The ground-based system has not had the best record, with only nine of 17 attempts successful since 1999.

It has been in place since 2004, but it has never been used in combat or fully tested. The most recent test was in June 2014.

Trump’s fiscal 2018 budget request, released Tuesday, includes $7.9 billion for missile defense, including $821 million for more interceptors.

Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) wants 28 additional interceptors in Alaska and California, increasing by more than 30 percent the number of interceptors currently in the United States.

The U.S. already has 36 interceptors, with four at Vandenberg Air Force Base along the California coast in Santa Barbara County and the rest at Alaska's Fort Greely. The Obama administration also signed off on plans to add eight more to Alaska by the end of 2017.

The plan also asks for $465 million for upgrades and testing for the Redesigned Kill Vehicle, part of the interceptor missile, and to replace old ground control systems.

In addition, the budget requests $451 million, up from $95 million last year, for the Long-Range Stand-Off missile, a nuclear cruise missile that the Air Force can fire from the B-52, B-2 and the B-21 bomber.

The Pentagon is also in the midst of a review of the United States' ballistic missile defense posture. Ordered by Trump in January and started in April, the review will examine threats from countries such as Russia, China, North Korea and Iran. It will also guide modernization plans for the nuclear triad, a three-pronged nuclear defense arsenal, over the next decade. 

The Air Force in early May tested a Minuteman III unarmed intercontinental ballistic missile from Vandenberg, but the service said it was routine and not meant to be a response to North Korea's recent missile tests.

The Air Force Global Strike Command also conducted an operational test on April 26 to show the country’s nuclear deterrent capability, officials said.

The Pentagon has also moved an anti-missile system to South Korea, the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system.