Pentagon: Test shows US can outpace North Korea missile threat through 2020

The Pentagon’s successful missile defense test Tuesday showed that the United States can outpace an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) threat from North Korea and Iran through 2020, according to the director of the Missile Defense Agency (MDA).

Vice Adm. Jim Syring told reporters Wednesday that the interceptor that shot from the ground-based midcourse defense system (GMD) and blew up a mock ICBM over the Pacific “helps us outpace the threat through 2020.”

“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 test yesterday that we continue to be on that course,” Syring said during a media briefing at the Pentagon on Wednesday.

The MDA launched a target missile launched from Reagan Test Site Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands in the Pacific and an interceptor Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The intercept took place over the Pacific Ocean, northeast of Hawaii and “thousands of miles” from the U.S. coast.

The interceptor, launched from an underground silo, was equipped with an upgraded “kill vehicle” that broke off from its rocket base and used a booster to smash into the incoming missile.

Syring said initial results from the $244 million test indicate that the interceptor and ICBM was “a direct hit, a complete obliteration,” but the agency will analyze the data over the next 30 days.

There were no notifications given to other countries prior to the test, and the test did not violate and international treaties, he added.

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The Defense Department is now planning another test for August or September 2018 that will feature one target and two interceptors — which Syring called “the next step to not only improving reliability but improving performance against the evolving threat.”

“We want to exercise the GMD system with more than one interceptor to gather data for what a first interceptor would do in terms of kill and what the second interceptor would see,” he said.

He also noted that the Pentagon has a “multi-object kill vehicle program” in the fiscal year 2018 budget, released earlier this month, that will start development this year and be ready by 2025.

“We’re at a very good step-wise progression here of not only increasing reliability but being ahead of where we believe the threat will go in terms of complexity, counter-measures, and ultimately consideration for capacity down the road,” he said.

The interceptor test follows a successful North Korean launch Monday — the third in three weeks — where a missile flew for six minutes and landed in the Sea of Japan. 

Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis said Tuesday that the test wasn’t “timed specifically to the current tensions in North Korea,” but said that recent threats from the country “is one of the reasons why we have this capability.”

Following news of the successful interceptor flight, Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) applauded the test as sending a “clear message” to North Korea’s “unstable dictator.”

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