The Pentagon on Tuesday successfully shot down an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) in a first-time test that cost nearly $250 million and helps prepare the Department of Defense (DOD) for a growing threat from North Korea.
The DOD’s Missile Defense Agency (MDA) shot an interceptor from the ground-based midcourse defense system (GMD) — a network meant to protect the country against a limited nuclear attack — at a target missile with a mock warhead meant to simulate an ICBM.
The target missile launched from Reagan Test Site Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands in the Pacific — nearly 5,000 miles from Los Angeles — and the interceptor was fired from an underground silo at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The intercept took place over the Pacific Ocean, according to a Pentagon statement.
“The intercept of a complex, threat-representative ICBM target is an incredible accomplishment for the GMD system and a critical milestone for this program,” MDA Director Vice Adm. Jim Syring said in the statement.
“This system is vitally important to the defense of our homeland, and this test demonstrates that we have a capable, credible deterrent against a very real threat.”
Initial readings suggest that the test met its primary goal, “but program officials will continue to evaluate system performance based upon telemetry and other data obtained during the test,” the statement added.
Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis told reporters earlier Tuesday that the test wasn’t “timed specifically to the current tensions in North Korea,” but said that recent threats from the country “is one of the reasons why we have this capability."
North Korea does not yet have the technology to reach the West Coast with a missile, but the test Tuesday is preparation for such an occurrence.
The test follows yet another successful North Korean launch Monday — the third in three weeks — where a missile flew for six minutes and landed in the Sea of Japan.
The GMD system does not have a stellar record, with only nine of 17 attempts successful since 1999. The most recent test in June 2014 was a success, but followed several failed tests.
The defense system has been in place since 2004, but it has never been used in combat.
Davis said the test allows the Pentagon to continue learning how to improve the defense capability and is only one element of a broader missile defense strategy.
“We improve and learn from each test regardless of the outcome,” he said. “Our goal is to continue to be able to tell you with confidence that we have the ability to defends the homeland against this nascent ICBM threat.”
Following the test, House Armed Services Committee ranking member Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithHouse passes 8B defense policy bill Lawmakers reach compromise on annual defense policy bill Senate GOP blocks defense bill, throwing it into limbo MORE (D-Wash.) congratulated the MDA on an "important milestone in the program," but added that "much work remains to be done to ensure we have a reliable and effective system.”
“After an investment of more than $40 billion since 2002, it’s good that the Missile Defense Agency is finally doing a missile defense test against an ICBM target, some 13 years after the first Ground-Based Interceptor system’s deployment," Smith said in a statement.
"Flight intercept testing, particularly against realistic targets, remains a key element of the program to assess the effectiveness of our deployed missile defense system, as well as to demonstrate the capability and continue the development of such a system."