U.S. destroys ICBM in key test of missile defense system

PUBLISHED Tue, May 30, 2017 - 6:51pm EDT
Credit: NBC

The U.S. military said on Tuesday that it had staged a successful, first-ever test to try to destroy an incoming intercontinental ballistic missile. It comes amid growing concerns over North Korea's advancing missile program. (more)

A ground-based interceptor was launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California at about 12:45 p.m. PT on Tuesday, aiming at an incoming ICBM-class target which was fired from the Reagan Test Site on Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands.

"The Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) received the target tracking data and developed a fire control solution to intercept the target," the U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA) said in a statement. "A ground-based interceptor was launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, and its exo-atmospheric kill vehicle intercepted and destroyed the target in a direct collision."

It was not possible to independently confirm whether Tuesday's intercept over the Pacific Ocean was successful. When an interceptor test was carried out in January 2016, the U.S. military called it a success, but the Los Angeles Times discovered months later that the test had actually failed.

Tuesday's high-profile test comes after months of escalating tensions on the Korean Peninsula, fueled by North Korea's missile tests and its advancing nuclear weapons program, as well as U.S. military exercises and statements by U.S. President Donald Trump.

"The intercept of a complex, threat-representative ICBM target is an incredible accomplishment for the GMD system and a critical milestone for the program," said MDA Director Jim Syring. "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."

North Korea has carried out a number of missile tests this year, including one on May 13 in which a missile reached an altitude of 2,111 kilometers (1,311 miles) and flew 787 kilometers (489 miles). The extreme height of the missile suggests it would be capable of reaching the U.S. territory of Guam, a significant development for North Korea's missile technology.

North Korea, which has often threatened to attack the United States, is trying to develop a missile capable of reaching the U.S. mainland. The U.S. Missile Defense Agency seeks to develop a system to reliably defend the U.S. against such missiles, but previous tests have shown a high rate of failure.

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