US missile test 2017

US Completes "Incredible" Missile Test, Amid North Korea Threat

US missile test 2017

Image courtesy US Department of Defense.

The US military says it has successfully intercepted and destroyed a mock intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) fired over the Pacific Ocean.

The test is the first of its kind, and was ordered in response to growing fears about North Korea's missile programme.

The ground-based interceptor missile was launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.

Vice Admiral Jim Syring, Director, Missile Defense Agency, called the test result "an incredible accomplishment" and a critical milestone for a programme hampered by setbacks over the years.

"This test demonstrates that we have a capable, credible deterrent against a very real threat," he said in a written statement announcing the test result," he said.

Despite the success, the $244 million test did not confirm that under wartime conditions the US could intercept an intercontinental-range missile fired by North Korea.

Pyongyang is understood to be moving closer to the capability of putting a nuclear warhead on such an ICBM and could develop decoys sophisticated enough to trick an interceptor into missing the real warhead.

North Korea has not been officially named as the main reason for the intercept programme, but the US military claims this demonstrates a capable and credible deterrent against a very real threat.

Since the system was declared ready for potential combat use in 2004, only four of nine intercept attempts have been successful.

The most recent successful intercept test took place in June 2014.

The US military currently has a total of 36 ground-based interceptors placed at its Fort Greely and Vandenberg bases, with the capability to destroy intermediate and long-range threats.

It comes as the United Nations' US ambassador said the American government believes China is using "back channel networking" with North Korea in a bid to persuade Kim Jong-un to stop nuclear and ballistic missile tests

"We believe they are being productive," Nikki Haley told reporters.

"We do think they're trying to counter what is happening now."

Ms Haley said China knew North Korea best "and so we're going to keep the pressure on China, but we're going to continue to work with them in any way that they think is best".

At the same time, Ms Haley said, the United States and China are discussing the timing of a new UN Security Council resolution that would toughen sanctions against North Korea in response to its latest ballistic missile launches.

Monday's launch was the third in three weeks.

Beijing is North Korea's traditional ally and accounts for up to 90% of the isolated nation's external trade, giving it considerable economic leverage.

But there are limits to China's influence and its willingness to use it.

North Korea has advanced its nuclear weapons programme over Chinese objections.