WASHINGTON, D.C. — As tensions with North Korea remain at an all time high, the Pentagon on Friday announced that it will try to shoot down an intercontinental-range missile for the first time in a test mission next week.
North Korea nuclear capability remains a top U.S. concern because its leader, Kim Jong Un, has vowed to launch a nuclear-armed missile capable of reaching American territory in response to what he’s called “repeated acts of American aggression”. Although the rogue leader has yet to test test such missile, Pentagon officials believe it is only a matter of time.
During a press conference this week, Marine Lt. Gen. Vincent Stewart, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, said that if “left unchecked,” Kim will eventually succeed.
Of paramount concern to defense experts is the interceptor’s less than stellar track record track record. In prior tests, the tool was successful in intercepting just nine of 17 attempts. The most recent test, which was conducted in June 2014, was ultimately successful, but only after failing three separate times. Sources within the Pentagon say that despite the advancements in technology, the system has only slightly evolved from the multibillion-dollar effort put forth by president Ronald Reagan’s 1983 “Star Wars” program, which was developed in response to ongoing tensions with the then Soviet Union.
“I can’t imagine what they’re going to say if it fails,” Philip Coyle, senior science fellow at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation told the San Francisco Chronicle (http://www.sfchronicle.com/news/politics/article/US-plans-first-test-of-ICBM-intercept-with-11176038.php). “These tests are scripted for success, and what’s been astonishing to me is that so many of them have failed.”
According to military officials the interceptor will be launched from an underground facility at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California and directed toward the target, which will be fired from a test range on Kwajalein Atoll in the Pacific. If successful, the “kill vehicle” will destroy the ICBM-like target’s mock warhead in the air above the Pacific Ocean.
“We conduct increasingly complex test scenarios as the program matures and advances,” Christopher Johnson, spokesman for the Missile Defense Agency, said on Friday. “Testing against an ICBM-type threat is the next step in that process.”