The U.S. Defense Department says it conducted a successful test of its land-based ballistic missile defense system on Friday.
Officials say a missile launched from California intercepted a target missile from Alaska 23 minutes after it was launched on Friday, in outer space somewhere over the Pacific Ocean.
Before the test, officials said the goal was not necessarily to intercept the Alaska missile, but rather was to gather data about the system's performance.
The director of the Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency, Lieutenant General Henry Obering, says the exercise exceeded all expectations. "Basically, what we did today is a huge step in terms of our systematic approach to continuing to field, continuing to deploy and continuing to develop a missile defense system for the United States, for our allies, our friends, our deployed forces around the world," he said.
General Obering was particularly gratified that this test involved U.S. military personnel, rather than civilian technicians who developed the system's components. The troops at a fire-control facility in Colorado received news of the target missile's launch from the same radar systems that would be used in an actual emergency, and followed normal procedures to launch the interceptor. "I don't want to ask the North Koreans to launch against us. That would be a realistic end-to-end test. Short of that, this is about as good as it gets," he said.
But General Obering says his team has a more challenging test planned for late this year, in which the target missile will deploy decoys to try to confuse the interceptor. He says even more sophisticated tests will follow.
The new U.S. missile defense system has come under heavy criticism for delays, test failures and cost overruns. But General Obering says recent successes, including this one, vindicate his agency's development program. "We had no defense in the United States against a long-range missile that was launched at the United States. We had no defense for many, many years. And so, this is the first time that we have been able to demonstrate a capability that we do have, in fact, using the operational configurations of the interceptors, the operational radars, the operational fire-control system," he said.
General Obering says the sea-based part of the system is more developed than the land-based part, but he expressed confidence that the overall system has what he called a "good chance" of intercepting an enemy missile, if that becomes necessary.