US plans first test of ICBM intercept, with NKorea on mind

WASHINGTON (AP) — Preparing for North Korea’s growing threat, the Pentagon will try to shoot down an intercontinental-range missile for the first time in a test next week. The goal is to more closely simulate a North Korean ICBM aimed at the U.S. homeland, officials said Friday

The American interceptor has a spotty track record, succeeding in nine of 17 attempts since 1999. The most recent test, in June 2014, was a success, but that followed three straight failures. The system has evolved from the multibillion-dollar effort triggered by President Ronald Reagan’s 1983 push for a “Star Wars” solution to ballistic missile threats during the Cold War — when the Soviet Union was the only major worry.

North Korea is now the focus of U.S. efforts because its leader, Kim Jong Un, has vowed to field a nuclear-armed missile capable of reaching American territory. He has yet to test an intercontinental ballistic missile, or ICBM, but Pentagon officials believe he is speeding in that direction.

Marine Lt. Gen. Vincent Stewart, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, said this week that “left unchecked,” Kim will eventually succeed.

The Pentagon has a variety of missile defense systems, but the one designed with a potential North Korean ICBM in mind is perhaps the most technologically challenging. Critics say it also is the least reliable.

The basic defensive idea is to fire a rocket into space upon warning of a hostile missile launch. The rocket releases a 5-foot-long device called a “kill vehicle” that uses internal guidance systems to steer into the path of the oncoming missile’s warhead, destroying it by force of impact. Officially known as the Ground-based Midcourse Defense system, the Pentagon likens it to hitting a bullet with a bullet.

The Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency, which is responsible for developing and testing the system, has scheduled the intercept test for Tuesday.

An interceptor is to be launched from an underground silo at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California and soar toward the target, which will be fired from a test range on Kwajalein Atoll in the Pacific. If all goes as planned, the “kill vehicle” will slam into the ICBM-like target’s mock warhead high over the Pacific Ocean.

The target will be a custom-made missile meant to simulate an ICBM, meaning it will fly faster than missiles used in previous intercept tests, according to Christopher Johnson, spokesman for the Missile Defense Agency. The target is not a mock-up of an actual North Korean ICBM.

North Korea is now the focus of U.S. efforts because its leader, Kim Jong Un, has vowed to field a nuclear-armed missile capable of reaching American territory. He has yet to test an intercontinental ballistic missile, or ICBM, but Pentagon officials believe he is speeding in that direction.

Marine Lt. Gen. Vincent Stewart, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, said this week that “left unchecked,” Kim will eventually succeed.

The Pentagon has a variety of missile defense systems, but the one designed with a potential North Korean ICBM in mind is perhaps the most technologically challenging. Critics say it also is the least reliable.

The basic defensive idea is to fire a rocket into space upon warning of a hostile missile launch. The rocket releases a 5-foot-long device called a “kill vehicle” that uses internal guidance systems to steer into the path of the oncoming missile’s warhead, destroying it by force of impact. Officially known as the Ground-based Midcourse Defense system, the Pentagon likens it to hitting a bullet with a bullet.

The Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency, which is responsible for developing and testing the system, has scheduled the intercept test for Tuesday.

An interceptor is to be launched from an underground silo at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California and soar toward the target, which will be fired from a test range on Kwajalein Atoll in the Pacific. If all goes as planned, the “kill vehicle” will slam into the ICBM-like target’s mock warhead high over the Pacific Ocean.

The target will be a custom-made missile meant to simulate an ICBM, meaning it will fly faster than missiles used in previous intercept tests, according to Christopher Johnson, spokesman for the Missile Defense Agency. The target is not a mock-up of an actual North Korean ICBM.

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