Missile Shootdown Test Was Most Realistic, U.S. Evaluator Says

  • Testing office backs claim interception exercise was a success
  • U.S. interceptor crashed into a mock North Korean ICBM

North Korea Isn't Backing Down

The Pentagon’s successful interception last week of a mock North Korean intercontinental ballistic missile was the most realistic test to date, according to the military’s test office.

The $244 million test of the rocket by Orbital ATK Inc. and the Raytheon Corp.“hit-to-kill” warhead it released “mimicked that of an actual operational scenario,” Army Lieutenant Colonel Roger Cabiness, a spokesman for the Defense Department testing office, said in a statement.

The testing office’s assessment bolstered statements from the U.S. Missile Defense Agency that the $36 billion system of radar, command links and ground-based interceptors can defeat any long-range threat that North Korea or Iran can develop through 2020. The interceptor, launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, crashed into the mock ICBM fired from Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands.

The test employed precision tracking “in an operationally realistic way to guide the interceptor to the target,” Cabiness said, while acknowledging that the incoming missile was accompanied only by simple decoys to throw the interceptor off course.

The Pentagon says this video shows a ground-based interceptor destroying a mock missile on May 30.

(Source: Bloomberg)

The conclusions were reached by David Duma, a career professional who’s acting director of the test office, where he’s worked since 2002. The launch of the ground-based interceptor last week was the first since a test that the Missile Defense Agency called a success in June 2014 -- after two that failed in 2010. The tests have been criticized as scripted and artificial by arms-control experts.

“What I think it showed is that they’re on the right track in the fixes to this kill vehicle” but it didn’t prove a “realistic capability,” Laura Grego, senior scientist for the Global Security Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said in an interview after last week’s test. “A real adversary would try to confuse you as much as possible” by launching at night, perhaps in the rain and with a barrage of decoys.

‘Demonstrated Capability’

Duma’s office concluded that the system now “has demonstrated capability to defend the U.S. homeland from a small number” of ICBM threats protected by “simple countermeasures” when the U.S. “employs its full sensors/command-and-control architecture,” Cabiness said.

That’s an upgrade from the office’s finding in 2012 that the system of interceptors -- managed by Boeing Co. and linked by a command-and-control network from Northrop Grumman Corp. -- had a “limited capability” to defend against a small number of ICBMs.

The test also verified that successful corrections were made to the latest version of the interceptor after past quality flaws, according to Duma’s office.

Vice Admiral James Syring, director of the Missile Defense Agency, told a House Armed Services subcommittee on Wednesday that the interceptor obliterated the mock ICBM in “an exact replica of the scenario that this country would face if North Korea were to fire a ballistic missile against the United States.”

But Syring said he still has “reliability concerns with the system that have been systematically addressed in large part over the last, I’ll say, six years, bit-by-bit. It’s not just the interceptor, it’s the entire system. We’re not there yet.”

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