US successfully launches test ICBM interceptor from California base

The Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency launched a successful test of one of its ground-based inter-continental ballistic missile (ICBM) interceptors on Tuesday, destroying what the Associated Press described as a “mock warhead”, approximately 2,000 miles away.

The anti-ICBM rocket was launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, hitting a target above the Earth’s atmosphere over the Pacific Ocean, originating from the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site in the Marshall Islands.

“The intercept of a complex, threat-representative ICBM target is an incredible accomplishment for the GMD [Ground-based Missile Defense] system and a critical milestone for this program,” Vice Adm. Jim Syring said in a statement. “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.”

The rocket test cost $244 million, according to AP, but does not confirm the U.S. is capable of intercepting an ICBM, which North Korea would likely mount with a nuclear warhead if launched at the West Coast of North America.

The latest North Korea missile launch took place on Sunday, when U.S. Pacific Command said Pyongyang launched a short-range ballistic missile — it’s ninth rocket launch since the beginning of 2017.  North Korea also tested its first medium-range ballistic missile two weeks prior.

Analysis

Although the Missile Defense Agency has claimed temporary victory, that success may be asterisked as the Pentagon is still evaluating the results.

However, the test is a step towards demonstrating the system is capable of protecting the U.S. against a small-scale ICBM attack — like one that North Korea could one day be capable of launching. But neither North Korea, nor our missile defenses, are ready for action.

For example, since it could take several interceptors to destroy an enemy’s warhead, the GMD still needs to be tested in a situation where multiple interceptors are fired together. But that’s not planned until late 2017 or 2018 per the Government Accountability Office, so stay tuned.

 

[AP] [ABC News] [Photo courtesy Army National Guard via Military.com]