Pentagon: 'Milestone' ICBM missile intercept test a success

Pentagon officials on Monday announced the success of a first-of-its-kind missile defense test in California.

The Missile Defense Agency (MDA) said the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense System (GMD), a network meant to protect the country against intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) threats, successfully intercepted a mock missile using two of the network’s Ground-Based Interceptors (GBI).

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The mock target was launched from Reagan Test Site Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands in the Pacific and the interceptors were fired from underground silos at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, according to a Pentagon statement.

One interceptor destroyed the ICBM reentry vehicle, then the second scanned the resulting debris and “not finding any other reentry vehicles, selected the next 'most lethal object' it could identify, and struck that, precisely as it was designed to do,” the statement notes.

"This was the first GBI salvo intercept of a complex, threat-representative ICBM target, and it was a critical milestone," MDA director Air Force Lt. Gen. Samuel Greaves said in the statement.

Greaves added that the system “worked exactly as it was designed to do,” and that the test “demonstrates that we have a capable, credible deterrent against a very real threat.”

The last time the Pentagon tested GMD against an ICBM target was in May 2017. That test only shot off one interceptor, cost nearly $250 million and was meant to help prepare the Defense Department for a growing threat from North Korea.

The GMD system, in place to defend the homeland since 2004, but never used in combat, has a somewhat spotty test record, with 11 of 20 test attempts successful since 1999.

At issue were the interceptors’ Exo-atmospheric Kill Vehicles, which are meant to break off from the interceptor once launched, and hit the target. The idea, and difficulty of the process, is akin to shooting a bullet at an oncoming bullet to knock it off course.