WASHINGTON May 30 The Pentagon prepared on
Tuesday for a first-ever missile defense test involving a
simulated attack by an intercontinental ballistic missile, like
the one North Korea seeks to develop, in what experts saw as a
high-stakes moment for the U.S. program.
The U.S. military sought to manage expectations ahead of the
test, which it acknowledged could go either way, saying it would
gain vital data regardless of whether its Ground-based Midcourse
Defense (GMD) interceptor hit its target.
It also sought to reassure the public that America's
defenses were layered, meaning it had multiple opportunities to
strike down a missile headed toward the United States.
"We improve and learn from each test, regardless of the
outcome. That's the reason we conduct them," said Pentagon
spokesman Captain Jeff Davis.
"The system that we test today is a developmental system
that's being flown for the first time and we look forward to
understanding the results so we continue to mature the system
and stay ahead of the threat."
The U.S. system has successfully hit its target in only nine
of 17 tests since 1999. The most recent test was in 2014.
North Korea has dramatically ramped up the pace of its
missile tests over the past year, with a goal of developing an
ICBM that can strike the U.S. mainland.
The continental United States is around 9,000 km (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.
The Missile Defense Agency said the test will involve
launching a simulated ICBM from a test site on Kwajalein Atoll
in the Marshall Islands toward the United States.
U.S. forces, using data from satellites and radar, will fire
a ground-based interceptor from Vandenberg Air Force Base,
A successful intercept would be much like hitting a bullet
with a bullet, experts say, cautioning that the ICBM would be
traveling faster than any missile in previous GMD tests.
Riki Ellison, the founder of the Missile Defense Advocacy
Alliance, described the test as "vital."
"We are replicating our ability to defend the United States
of America from North Korea, today," Ellison said.
Still, there were no guarantees that Tuesday's test would be
successful and any failure of the GMD could deepen concerns
about a program that according to one estimate has already cost
more than $40 billion to develop.
In the fiscal year 2018 budget proposal sent to Congress
last week, the Pentagon requested $7.9 billion for the Missile
Defense Agency, including about $1.5 billion for the GMD
A 2016 assessment released by the Pentagon's weapons testing
office in January said that U.S. ground-based interceptors meant
to knock out any incoming ICBM still had low reliability, giving
the system itself a limited capability of shielding the United
"There are already significant questions about the
capability of this system and how much protection it actually
provides and I think if the test fails, you are going to hear
even louder concerns and criticisms," said Kingston Reif at the
Arms Control Association.
(Editing by Steve Orlofsky)