US missile defence system hits target in key test

A flight test of the exercising elements of the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense system is launched by the 30th Space Wing and the US Missile Defense Agency at the Vandenberg AFB, California on June 22, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
A flight test of the exercising elements of the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense system is launched by the 30th Space Wing and the US Missile Defense Agency at the Vandenberg AFB, California on June 22, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - The US missile defence system managed by Boeing Co on Sunday hit a simulated enemy missile over the Pacific in the first successful intercept test of the program since 2008, the US Defense Department said.

The successful intercept will help validate the troubled Boeing-run Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system which provides the sole US defence against long-range ballistic missiles, and the Raytheon Co kill vehicle that separates from the rocket and hits an incoming warhead.

"This is a very important step in our continuing efforts to improve and increase the reliability of our homeland ballistic missile defense system," said Missile Defense Agency (MDA)Director Vice Admiral James Syring.

He said the agency would continue its ongoing drive to ensure that the ground-based interceptors and overall homeland defence system were effective and dependable.

Reuters reported on Friday that the Pentagon is restructuring its contract with Boeing for management of the missile defence system to put more emphasis on maintenance and reliability.

Sunday's high-stakes test came after the system had failed to hit a dummy missile in five of eight previous tests since the Bush administration rushed to deploy the system in 2004 to counter growing threats by North Korea.

Earlier this month, Syring said that another test failure would have forced the Pentagon to reassess its plans to add 14 more interceptors to the 30 already in silos in the ground in Alaska and California.

During the test, a long-range ground-based interceptor launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, intercepted an intermediate-range ballistic missile target launched from the US Army's Reagan Test Site on Kwajalein Atoll in the Republic of the Marshall Islands, the Pentagon said.

It said all components involved in the test appeared to have performed as designed.

Program officials will spend the next several months assessing the performance of the system using telemetry and other data obtained during the test.

The test marked the first successful intercept by Raytheon's Exoatmospheric Kill Vehicle Capability Enhancement II, or EKV CE-II, which failed in both previous tests conducted in 2010.

The companies involved had no immediate comment.

Ten of the interceptors now in place carry the kill vehicle used in Sunday's test.

The other 20 carry an earlier kill vehicle that failed in a July 2013 test.