WASHINGTON – The successful test of a missile defense system Tuesday against a mock intercontinental ballistic missile shows that the U.S. is prepared to defend itself from the evolving threats posed by North Korea and Iran, the U.S. military said Wednesday.
Vice Adm. Jim Syring, director of the Missile Defense Agency, said the test of the ground-based midcourse defense (GMD) system portrayed a “very realistic” scenario of a situation the U.S. intelligence community believes the U.S. could face over the Pacific Ocean come the year 2020. Syring said the $244 million test ended with a “direct hit” and “complete obliteration” of the dummy warhead.
“What we see in 2020 … was very well replicated in the test that we conducted yesterday,” Syring said at a news briefing. “I was confident before the test that we had the capability to defeat any threat that they would throw at us, and I’m even more confident today after seeing the intercept yesterday, that we continue to be on that course.”
The mock ICBM was fired from a test site on Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands. The military then fired the interceptor from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The “kill vehicle” separated from the interceptor and collided with the mock ICBM above the atmosphere northeast of Hawaii, destroying it on impact. The process has been compared to hitting a bullet with a bullet.
The development comes as North Korea makes progress on its nuclear and missile program, with the expressed goal of developing an ICBM capable of hitting the U.S. mainland. Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) tested several missiles in May and has said it will continue advancing its weapons program.
The test, Syring said, involved a mock ICMB that flew at an altitude and speed within range of what would be expected from an ICBM. He said that the test involved decoys and countermeasures, and that the officers manning the interceptor from Vandenberg were not made aware of the precise time that the mock ICBM would be fired.
He said the system in its current form is operational, rather than experimental, and will be what is deployed to Vandenberg and Fort Greely, Alaska when the military boosts the number of interceptors from 36 to 44 by the end of 2017.
The next planned test of the system is in August or September of 2018, Syring said, and will involve multiple kill vehicles to better replicate a real world response to a missile threat.
The MDA also plans to flight test a redesigned kill vehicle in 2019, and has budgeted for a kill vehicle capable of tracking and destroying more than one object. That project could begin development later this year and is projected for completion in 2025.
The program to date has cost somewhere between $28 and $41 billion over its nearly two-decade development. Previously, the GMD system had successfully hit its target in nine of 17 tests since 1999, including its last test in 2014. It was deemed combat-ready in 2004, but since then has only successfully hit its target in four out of nine tests.