One of the Senate’s top missile defense boosters is applauding Tuesday’s successful intercept test for sending a “clear message” to North Korea’s “unstable dictator.”
“This test clearly demonstrates to our adversaries that our homeland missile defense system remains on track to defend our country,” Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) said in a statement Tuesday. “Today is an important day for our nation’s missile defenders, our scientists and engineers, and the American people.
“This successful intercept test of an ICBM-like target sends a clear message to the unstable dictator in North Korea that the U.S. Ballistic Missile Defense System can and will shoot down any ballistic missile threat that endangers the American people.”
Earlier on Tuesday, the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency for the first time tested the ground-based midcourse defense (GMD) system’s ability to intercept an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).
The agency said in a statement that the test was successful.
The test has been in the works for a while — since before North Korea’s accelerated missile testing — but Pentagon officials said Pyongyang’s recent flurry of tests have put into focus the importance of making sure the GMD works.
The system, which has been operational since 2004 and has cost about $40 billion, is designed to shoot down an incoming ICBM with interceptors launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., or Fort Greely, Alaska.
But until Tuesday it had never been tested on an ICMB. And the tests of lesser-range missiles have been spotty, with the system failing eight of 17 tests since 1999.
In his Tuesday statement, Sullivan said more needs to be done on missile defense.
“While I am thankful this test was a success and I look forward to the emplacement of the remaining [ground based interceptors] at Fort Greely, we need to do more to ensure that our missile defense system continues to advance ahead of the rapidly increasing North Korean threat,” he said.
Sullivan has introduced a bill that would buy 28 more interceptors for Alaska and California, on top of the 30 the military has now and the 14 approved for purchase by the end of 2017.
The bill would also require the Pentagon to study whether to have up to 100 interceptors across the United States.
Opponents of the GMD decry its high price tag and spotty track record. Further, they say, even the most effective missile defense system can be overwhelmed by an attack that fires enough missiles.