The U.S. military has shot down mock warhead over the Pacific in a key success for it missile defense program, just days amid growing fears over North Korea's weapons capability.
The Pentagon announced the first missile defense test was taking place today involving a simulated attack by an intercontinental ballistic missile, firing off an interceptor from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, a Reuters witness at the base said.
The Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) interceptor successfully struck its target over the Pacific Ocean in an exercise aimed at helping gauge American ability to counter any potential similar threat from North Korea, according to Daily Mail.
The est comes amid heightened tensions between the U.S. and Pyongyang over North Korea's continued provocations.
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. Kim Jong-un has claimed its latest test missile landed just seven metres from its target in Japanese waters.
As a result, South Korea conducted a joint drill with a US supersonic B-1B Lancer bomber, prompting the North's dictator to claim the allied countries were practicing dropping nuclear bombs.
The North Korean test fire came on the heels of two previous successful tests of medium-to-long-range missiles in as many weeks by the North, which has been conducting such tests at an unprecedented pace in an effort to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capable of hitting the mainland United States.
Kim Jong-un said the reclusive state would develop more powerful weapons to defend North Korea against the United States, and state media quoted him as saying: "He expressed the conviction that it would make a greater leap forward in this spirit to send a bigger 'gift package to the Yankees' in retaliation for American military provocation".
Today's $244 million US test has been heralded as a success after it brought down the mock intercontinental ballistic missile. However, that missile is just one weapon among North Korea's arsenal.
It does not prove that America can defend its against one of Pyongyang's intercontinental-range missiles, while the dictatorship is also understood to be moving closer to the capability of putting a nuclear warhead on such a missile and could have developed decoys sophisticated enough to trick an interceptor into missing the real warhead.
America's last intercept test, in June 2014, was successful, but the longer track record is spotty. Since the system was declared ready for potential combat use in 2004, only four of nine intercept attempts have been successful.
North Korea says its nuclear and missile programs are a defense against perceived U.S. military threats.
Laura Grego, senior scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, which has criticized the missile defense program, calls the interceptor an "advanced prototype," meaning it is not fully matured technologically even if it has been deployed and theoretically available for combat since 2004.
The interceptors are, in essence, the last line of U.S. defense against an attack by an intercontinental-range missile.
The Pentagon has other elements of missile defense that have shown to be more reliable, although they are designed to work against medium-range or shorter-range ballistic missiles.
These include the Patriot missile, which numerous countries have purchased from the U.S., and the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, which the U.S. deployed this year to South Korea to defend against medium-range missiles from North Korea.