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US tests ICBM interceptor in California

May 31, 2017

The US has tested a missile defense system aimed at striking down intercontinental ballistic missiles, like the ones North Korea seeks to develop. The US army called the test result an "incredible accomplishment."

Raketentest in USA US-Interkontinentalrakete
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/M. Peterson/U.S. Air Force

The Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) interceptor was fired Tuesday from the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The US military announced that the test had been a success, with the interceptor striking a mock warhead over the Pacific Ocean.

Vice Admiral James Syring, director of the Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency, hailed the test as an "incredible success" and a crucial milestone in the US' missile defense program.

Read more: The limits of missile defense systems

"This system is vitally important to the defense of our homeland, and this test demonstrates that we have a capable, credible deterrent against a very real threat," Syring added in a written statement.

Defending a North Korea attack

The interceptor, designed to intercept an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), would be crucial in defending the US from a North Korean attack, should it come to that.

Riki Ellison, the founder of the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance based near Washington which advocates for the development and deployment of missile defense systems to defend the United States, described the test as "vital."

"We are replicating our ability to defend the United States of America from North Korea, today," Ellison said.

- China, Japan wary of each other over advanced missile radars

- North Korea crisis: Which country has the strongest military in the region?

- Russia steps up North Korea support to constrain US

The test came amid growing fears about North Korea's development of ICBMs capable of reaching the US. Pyongyang is also reported to be moving closer to being able to place a nuclear warhead on such a ballistic missile.

Infografik Karte Raketenabwehrtest USA englisch

On Monday, the isolated communist country launched a ballistic missile that was believed to have traveled around 450 kilometers (280 miles) before falling into the Sea of Japan. The US Pacific Command said the short-range Scud-class ballistic missile was tracked for six minutes before it disappeared.

Work still to be done

However, US military officials also played down expectations about the success of the GMD interceptor following the test.

Syring admitted that, while Tuesday's test was a success, the Pentagon would continue to evaluate and improve on system performance based on data obtained during the test.

"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," Davis added.

The US' missile defense program has been hampered by setbacks in recent years and come under steady criticism. While the US military GMD interceptors have been declared technically ready for combat since 2004, five out of nine tests since then have failed.

shs, dm/jm (Reuters, AP, AFP)