Just two days ago, North Korea fired at least one short-range ballistic missile on Monday that landed in the sea off its east coast, in Japan's maritime economic zone, the latest in a fast-paced series of missile tests defying world pressure and threats of more sanctions.
The ground-based interceptor being tested Tuesday is different than the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system located in South Korea, which would intercept the kill vehicle at a lower altitude in the missile's terminal stage. This anti-missile technology has been deemed "combat ready" since 2004, per NBC News, but its overall record is pretty lousy, with only four of nine tests having been successful since then.
"North Korea has expanded the size and the sophistication of its ballistic missile forces from close-range ballistic missiles to intercontinental ballistic missiles", Pentagon spokesman Captain Jeff Davis said according to the Department of Defense press release.
The interceptor tested had an upgraded "kill" vehicle - to hit the incoming missile, as well as an upgraded booster and improved guidance. They say a more fruitful approach would be to destroy or disable such missiles before they can be launched, possibly by cyberattack. "We look forward to understanding the results so we can continue to mature the system and stay ahead of the threat".
Pentagon spokesman Navy Captain Jeff Davies said Tuesday's U.S. test was not timed specifically to the current tensions in North Korea but said that "in a broad sense, North Korea is one of the reasons why we have this capability".
"Such a test seems like a logical move for the United States". Liquid fuel is less stable and rockets using it have to be fueled in the field, a process that takes longer and can be detected by satellites. The Minuteman III missile launch lit up the night sky and soared about 4,200 miles to a test range near the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands.
About half of the previous tests of the Ground-based Midcourse Defense system have failed, attracting criticism from the Government Accountability Office and the Pentagon's own weapons testing office, which says the system has "a limited capability" to defend the USA against an ICBM attack. It was not a mock-up of an actual North Korean ICBM, and details of its exact capabilities weren't made public. "Program officials will evaluate system performance based upon telemetry and other data obtained during the test".
The U.S. has 36 interceptors in Alaska and California now and could have 44 by year's end.
The military has conducted 17 tests of its missile-defense system, only 9 have been successful.
"Ever since Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) first was thought about seriously in the 1960s, it could not counter one cardinal truth".
In Tuesday's test, the Pentagon shot down a single missile.
"This test clearly demonstrates to our adversaries that our homeland missile defense system remains on track to defend our country", Sen.
This is the first time that the Pentagon has attempted to shoot down an intercontinental missile.