US to conduct ICBM intercept test amid rising tensions over North Korea
Iran Press TV
Fri May 26, 2017 8:49PM
The United States plans to shoot down an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) for the first time in a test next week as North Korea is trying to develop one.
The Pentagon will conduct the test on Tuesday in order to more closely simulate a North Korean ICBM Washington believes is aimed at the US homeland, officials said Friday.
The US has a variety of missile systems at its disposal, but the one designed with a potential North Korean ICBM in mind is perhaps the most technologically challenging.
The system basically starts by firing a rocket into space upon warning of a hostile missile launch. The rocket then releases a 5-foot-long device called a "kill vehicle" which with the help of internal guidance systems steers into the path of the oncoming missile's warhead, destroying it by force of impact.
According to the Pentagon, an interceptor is to be launched from an underground silo at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on Tuesday and move toward the target, which will be fired from a test range on Kwajalein Atoll in the Pacific.
The "kill vehicle" will then slam into the ICBM-like target's mock warhead high over the Pacific Ocean if all goes as planned.
The target will be a custom-made missile planned to simulate an ICBM, which means it will fly faster than missiles used in previous intercept tests, said Christopher Johnson, spokesman for the Missile Defense Agency. The target is not a mock-up of an actual North Korean ICBM though.
"We conduct increasingly complex test scenarios as the program matures and advances," Johnson said. "Testing against an ICBM-type threat is the next step in that process."
The US interceptor has succeeded in nine of 17 attempts since 1999 with the most recent successful test conducted in June 2014, though it was followed by three straight failures.
According to critics, the current system, officially known as the Ground-based Midcourse Defense, is the least reliable.
"I can't imagine what they're going to say if it fails," said Philip Coyle, senior science fellow at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation.
"These tests are scripted for success, and what's been astonishing to me is that so many of them have failed," said Coyle, who headed the Pentagon's office of operational test and evaluation between 1994 and 2001 and has studied the missile system.
The US is currently focusing on North Korea as its leader, Kim Jong-un, has pledged to field a nuclear-armed missile capable of reaching American territory.
President Donald Trump has warned that a "major conflict" with North Korea is "absolutely" possible in the ongoing standoff over its nuclear and missile programs.
According to reports, the Trump administration is considering a range of military actions against the country.
Tensions have increased between Washington and Pyongyang over the North's nuclear and missile programs, which the country sees as a deterrent against a potential invasion by its adversaries, including the US.
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