US missile defense system successfully intercepts test target
The latest test of the nation's missile defense system, partially based in Alaska, saw a significant success Monday which drew quick praise from the state's federal lawmakers.
The U.S. Missile Defense Agency exercise targeted a test intercontinental ballistic missile, launched from the Reagan Test Site on Kwajalein Atoll in the Republic of the Marshall Islands. The missile was launched over 4,000 miles away from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, where the missile interceptors that destroyed it were launched.
"This is what is called a salvo engagement," agency spokesman Mark Wright said in a phone interview with KTVA. "What happens is two ground-based interceptors are launched seconds apart. This proved the latest version of interceptors we have today operated (and) work great."
The two interceptors were designated "lead" and "trail." The lead's job is to seek out the reentry vehicle or warhead. The trail's mission is to seek out the reentry vehicle if the lead misses, or look through the debris and remaining objects and strike the most lethal remaining object.
"They both did what they are designed to do," Wright said. "When these vehicles make it to space, there is no air or gravity. The missile sheds various parts as it picks up speed: fuel tanks, clamshells and that sort of stuff. Then you are left with the reentry vehicle, or warhead if you will. Behind it is all this debris. The lead did its job and struck the 'warhead,' and the trail looked through all the debris and hit the next largest target. The identification it made was correct."
Currently, Fort Greely, Alaska has 40 ground-based interceptors and Vandenberg has four. President Trump has announced that 20 additional interceptors are planned for Fort Greely by 2023, along with missile-detecting radar and sensors.
Sen. Dan Sullivan and Rep. Don Young both issued statements Monday afternoon praising the results.
“Today’s successful test is great news for the United States and our missile defenders,” Sullivan said. “This test, in which two different objects were intercepted, validates the effectiveness of our homeland missile defense system and gives policymakers and warfighters increased confidence in a critical system which safeguards the entire country. Additionally, this test gives our enemies pause, making them doubt the effectiveness of their offensive capabilities. This doubt, coupled with the threat of a military response from the U.S., bolsters our deterrence posture, including against threats from rogue nations.”
“For years, adversaries like Russia, Iran, North Korea, and China have been accelerating their ballistic missile programs with the goal of creating weapons that can reach the United States," Young said. "If we are to adequately protect our homeland, it is critical that the United States support and expand our ground-based missile defense infrastructure. Today’s successful test over the Pacific by MDA further emphasizes the value of missile defense interceptors to our national security, and I will continue advocating for our nation’s missile defense sites.”
Initial indications show the test met requirements. Program officials will continue to evaluate system performance based upon telemetry and other data obtained during the test.
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