The U.S. military successfully intercepted a mock ballistic missile target over the Pacific Ocean in a test of a missile-defense system aimed at protecting the U.S. from the sort of ballistic missiles being developed by North Korea, the Missile Defense Agency said Tuesday.
The mock ICBM-class target was fired from the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Test Site in the Marshall Islands. And an interceptor — launched from the Vandenberg Air Force Base, about 22 miles north of Santa Barbara, Calif. — locked on the target and brought it down.
Sensors tracked the target over the Pacific before the California-based interceptor destroyed it "in a direct collision," the missile agency said in an announcement.
"This test demonstrates that we have a capable, credible deterrent against a very real threat," said Vice Adm. Jim Syring, director of the Missile Defense Agency.
The test is the first of the ground-based, mid-course defense system against an ICBM-class target, Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis told reporters at the Pentagon ahead of the test.
The U.S. has a total of 36 of the interceptors like the one used Tuesday split between Vandenberg Air Force Base and Fort Greely in Alaska, according to a Missile Defense Agency fact sheet.
North Korea, which has repeatedly stated its intention to strike the U.S. mainland, has conducted an “unprecedented” number of tests and launches over the past year, Davis said. Most recently, it launched a Scud missile Sunday that landed in the Sea of Japan.
But Davis said Tuesday’s test is not in direct response to the current tensions with North Korea.
“Obviously, North Korea is one of the reasons why we have this capability,” Davis said. “But North Korea is not the only reason why we have this capability and why we test this capability. Iran also continues to develop more sophisticated missiles and improve the range and accuracy of current missile systems.”
The interceptor tested Tuesday is just one element of a broader strategy to protect the country from incoming missiles.
“We improve and learn from each test, regardless of the outcome. That’s the reason we conduct them,” Davis said. “Our goal is to continue to be able to tell you with confidence that we have the ability to defend the homeland."