USA

WATCH: Pentagon Successfully Completes Missile Defence Test Over Pacific

The Pentagon says the test shows the US has a "capable, credible deterrent against a very real threat".

The Pentagon says it has carried out a first-of-its-kind "salvo" intercept test of an unarmed Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) over the Pacific.

Two interceptor missiles were launched from underground silos in southern California, targeting a re-entry vehicle that had been launched 4,000 miles away.

The first interceptor hit and destroyed the re-entry vehicle, which, in an actual attack, would carry a warhead. 

The second interceptor then looked at the remaining objects and debris, and after not finding any other re-entry vehicles, it selected the "most lethal object" it could identify. 

It hit its target as expected, according to the Pentagon's Missile Defence Agency.

The second missile, in the back of the picture, targeted remaining objects and debris (Picture: US Department of Defense).
The second missile, in the back of the picture, targeted remaining objects and debris (Picture: US Department of Defense).

The interceptors were launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

The target missile was launched from the Reagan Test Site in the Marshall Islands.

Air Force Lieutenant General Samuel A. Greaves, director of the Missile Defence Agency, said "the system worked exactly as it was designed to do". 

He added the test result "demonstrates that we have a capable, credible deterrent against a very real threat".

Although the missile defence system has been operating for more than a decade, this was the first time it had attempted a "salvo" intercept.

The salvo intercept is when more than one interceptor missile is launched at a single target missile. 

The concept is meant to improve the chances of hitting an incoming missile, which could contain decoys and other measures designed to make it harder to hit.

On-board sensor view of the "salvo" intercept missile (Picture: US Department of Defense).
On-board sensor view of the "salvo" intercept missile (Picture: US Department of Defense).

Laura Grego, a senior scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said before the announcement that a successful intercept did not mean the missile defence system is fully ready to defend the US in combat.

She added how the test was carried out under an unusually thick veil of secrecy.

"Success is better than failure, but because of the secrecy I have no idea how high the bar was set," she said.

"How realistic was the test? The Pentagon had a very long way to go to demonstrate the system works in a real-world situation."

The Pentagon is putting additional billions of dollars into expanding its arsenal of missile interceptors, which are based mainly at Fort Greely in Alaska.

In the 2020 defence budget request, the Pentagon asked for 9.4 billion dollars (£7.1 billion) for missile defence, including the system based in Alaska.