(CNSNews.com) – In a “critical milestone” for the program to provide a missile defense umbrella over the U.S. homeland, the U.S. Missile Defense Agency on Tuesday reported the first successful interception and destruction in flight of a target with ICBM characteristics.
A ground-based interceptor launched from the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California collided with and destroyed an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM)-class projectile that had been launched from at atoll in the Marshall Islands, more than 4,500 miles away, the MDA reported.
The first live-fire test of the ground-based midcourse defense system (GMD) against an ICBM-class target comes at a time of greater-than-usual tensions on the Korean peninsula, as Kim Jong-un’s regime continues to test ballistic missiles and threatens to use nuclear weapons against the United States.
The projectile launched from the Ronald Reagan Missile Test Site on Kwajalein atoll was “acquired” and tracked by multiple sensors including seaborne X-band radar in the Pacific Ocean, the MDA explained.
Target-tracking data was relayed to the GMD system which responded by launching the interceptor from Vandenberg. Its exo-atmospheric “kill vehicle” then intercepted and destroyed the target projectile in a “direct collision.”
According to manufacturer Raytheon, the kill vehicle sits atop the missile and, once outside the Earth’s atmosphere, uses sensors, a sophisticated onboard computer and a rocket motor to pinpoint and home in on the target, which it then destroys by means of a massive collision.
“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 after Tuesday’s test.
“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,” he said. “I am incredibly proud of the warfighters who executed this test and who operate this system every day.”
The MDA said the test met its primary objective, but evaluation of the system’s performance will continue, using telemetry and other data acquired during the exercise.
Ahead of the shoot-to-kill technology test, Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. Jeff Davis told reporters that North Korea and Iran were of particular concern, although the long-planned test was not timed as a response to North Korea’s recent provocations.
He said the North Koreans have expanded the size and sophistication of its program, from close range ballistic missiles to ICBMs.
“They continue to conduct test launches, as we saw even this weekend, while also using dangerous rhetoric that suggests that they would strike the United States homeland.”
Davis said Iran’s ballistic missile capability also continues to threaten U.S. strategic interests in the Middle East.
The GMD system currently includes four ground-based interceptors at Vandenberg and another 32 in Fort Greely, Alaska.
The program has had a checkered record in past tests and has drawn criticism in Congress and elsewhere at times.
Tuesday’s was the 18th text since October 1999, and the tenth to have been declared successful. Three of the eight failures were ascribed to the kill vehicle failing to separate from the booster rocket, while another three also related to kill vehicle performance.
The MDA describes its mission as developing and deploying a layered missile defense shield to protect the United States, its forces stationed abroad, and allies and friends from ballistic missile attack.