The US military cheered a successful, first-ever missile defense test involving a simulated attack by an intercontinental ballistic missile, in a major milestone for a program meant to defend against a mounting North Korean threat, Reuters reports.
The US military on Tuesday fired an ICBM-type missile from the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands toward the waters just south of Alaska.
It then fired a missile to intercept it from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
Experts compare the job to hitting a bullet with another bullet and note the complexity is magnified by the enormous distances involved, the news agency said.
The Missile Defense Agency said it was the first live-fire test against a simulated ICBM for the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD), managed by Boeing Co., and hailed it as an “incredible accomplishment”.
“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,” Vice Admiral Jim Syring, director of the agency, said in a statement.
A successful test was by no means guaranteed and the Pentagon sought to manage expectations earlier in the day, noting that the United States had multiple ways to try to shoot down a missile from North Korea.
“This is one element of a broader missile defense strategy that we can use to employ against potential threats,” Pentagon spokesman Captain Jeff Davis told reporters.
North Korea has dramatically ramped up missile tests over the past year in its effort to develop an ICBM that can strike the US mainland.
The continental United States is around 9,000 kilometers (5,500 miles) from North Korea. ICBMs have a minimum range of about 5,500 km (3,400 miles), but some are designed to travel 10,000 km (6,200 miles) or farther.
Riki Ellison, founder of the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance, described the test as “vital” prior to launch.
“We are replicating our ability to defend the United States of America from North Korea, today,” Ellison said.
Failure could have deepened concern about a program that according to one estimate has so far cost more than US$40 billion. Its success could translate into calls by Congress to speed development.
In Seoul, South Korean President Moon Jae-in ordered a probe after his defense ministry failed to inform him that four more launchers for the controversial US THAAD anti-missile system had been brought into the country, Reuters said.
The Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system battery was initially deployed in March in the southeastern region of Seongju with just two of its maximum load of six launchers to counter a growing North Korean missile threat.
During his successful campaign for the May 9 presidential election, Moon called for a parliamentary review of the system, the deployment of which infuriated China, North Korea’s lone major ally.
“President Moon said it was very shocking” to hear the four additional launchers had been installed without being reported to the new government or to the public, presidential spokesman Yoon Young-chan told a media briefing on Tuesday.
Moon had campaigned on a more moderate approach to Pyongyang, calling for engagement even as the reclusive state pursues nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs in defiance of UN Security Council resolutions and threats of more sanctions.
North Korea’s KCNA news agency reported that leader Kim Jong-un supervised the country’s latest missile test on Monday. It said the missile had a new precision guidance system and a new mobile launch vehicle.
Kim said North Korea would develop more powerful weapons to defend against the US.
“He expressed the conviction that it would make a greater leap forward in this spirit to send a bigger ‘gift package’ to the Yankees” in retaliation for American military provocation, KCNA quoted Kim as saying.
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