The United States has successfully shot down a mock intercontinental ballistic missile, its first-live fire test, using its own upgraded long-range interceptor warhead, in what was widely seen as a test of America’s ability to counter growing threat from North Korea.
The US military fired an intercontinental ballistic missile-type weapon on Tuesday from the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands. It then fired a missile to intercept it from Vandenberg air force base in California.
This was the first live-fire test event against an ICBM-class target for Ground-based Midcourse Defence and the US ballistic missile defence system, the Pentagon has said.
GMD is an integral element of the United States’ layered ballistic missile defence architecture, with interceptors at Vandenberg Air Force Base and Fort Greely, Alaska.
The programme comprises command-and-control facilities, communications terminals and a 20,000-mile fibre-optic communications network that interfaces with ballistic missile defence radars and other sensors.
“The intercept of a complex, threat-representative ICBM target is an incredible accomplishment for the GMD system and a critical milestone for this programme,” said Missile Defence Agency Director Vice Adm Jim Syring.
“This system is vitally important to the defence of our homeland, and this test demonstrates that we have a capable, credible deterrent against a very real threat,” he added.
According to Pentagon, initial indications are that the test met its primary objective, but programme officials will continue to evaluate system performance based upon telemetry and other data obtained during the test.
The one-time test costs $250 million (Rs 1,612 crore) to the Department of Defence.
The test, designated Flight Test Ground-Based Interceptor-15, will provide the data necessary to assess the performance of the GMD system and provide enhanced homeland defence capabilities, it said.
The GMD element of the ballistic missile defence system provides combatant commanders the capability to engage and destroy intermediate and long-range ballistic missile threats to protect the US.
The continental US is about 9,000 km from North Korea. ICBMs have a minimum range of about 5,500 km, but some are designed to travel 10,000 km or farther.
North Korea has dramatically ramped up the pace of its missile tests over the past year, with a goal of developing an ICBM that can strike the US mainland.
Early in the day, the Pentagon spokesman Capt Jeff Davis told that the test wasn’t “timed specifically to the current tensions in North Korea.”
At the same time he said recent threats from the country “is one of the reasons why we have this capability.”
“We improve and learn from each test regardless of the outcome. 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,” Davis said.
“This successful test keeps the United States on track for a significant increase in interceptor inventory of 44 in 2017,” said Norm Tew, vice president and GMD program director.
US lawmakers congratulated the Pentagon on this successful test.
“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 US Ballistic Missile Defence System can and will shoot down any ballistic missile threat that endangers the American people,” said Senator Dan Sullivan, a member of the
Senate Armed Services Committee.
House Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Adam Smith said this is an “important milestone in the programme,” but “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 Defence Agency is finally doing a missile defence test against an ICBM target, some 13 years after the first Ground-Based Interceptor system’s deployment,” Smith said in a statement.
“By successfully shooting down an ICBM-class target, America demonstrated that we can defend ourselves from nuclear attack. And the world should know that America will defend itself from nuclear attack. I hope that our enemies were all watching closely and took note of what we are capable of achieving,” Congressman Doug Lamborn said.
Image: An unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile launches from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, United States during an operational test. Photograph: Michael Peterson/USAF/Reuters