Pentagon test to stop long-range missiles

WASHINGTON • The United States military will try to intercept an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) in a landmark test of a defence system that comes amid broad tensions over North Korea's weapons programme, the Pentagon said last Friday.

Scheduled for Tuesday, the test is the first time the military will attempt to intercept an ICBM. Previous trials were against intermediate-range missiles, which are slower.

Experts will launch a ground-based interceptor from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, at a mock-up of an ICBM fired from the Reagan Test Site on Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands, the Missile Defence Agency said.

The exercise will check the performance of the Ground-based Midcourse Defence (GMD) system, which has had a chequered record in previous tests.

The technology behind the GMD is extremely complex, and the system uses globally deployed sensors to detect and track ballistic missile threats.

In a move that the Pentagon says is akin to hitting a bullet with another bullet, the missile launches into space, then deploys an "exoatmospheric kill vehicle", which uses kinetic energy to destroy the incoming target.

If the test is successful, it will prove that US has an effective ground-based defence against ICBMs, albeit on a limited scale.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 28, 2017, with the headline 'Pentagon test to stop long-range missiles'. Print Edition | Subscribe