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Long-range missile defense system intercepts target in test

A ground-based interceptor lifts off during a 2013 test.
A ground-based interceptor lifts off during a 2013 test.
U.S. Missile Defense Agency

The Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system, which is designed to protect the United States against long-range ballistic missiles, intercepted a target missile during a key test June 22.

During the exercise, an interceptor missile launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., collided with and destroyed the target, which had taken off from the Army's Reagan Test Site on Kwajalein Atoll in the Pacific. The intercept took place in space over the missile of the ocean.

The interceptor carried an improved exo-atmospheric kill vehicle, known as Capability Enhancement-II (CE-II), while the target was equipped with decoys and other countermeasures similar to those that adversaries might deploy to fool interceptors in a real war. GMD is designed to intercept a missile in its midcourse phase of flight.

The successful test, the first for the system since 2008, was widely considered long overdue. GMD had failed to intercept its target in its previous three attempts, fueling claims in some quarters that the complex system was unreliable. The Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance called the new test “a significant milestone … that demonstrates the system’s reliability,” and said it should help pave the way for more system upgrades, including new sensors, to make it even more capable.

"This is a very important step in our continuing efforts to improve and increase the reliability of our homeland ballistic missile defense system," said Vice Adm. James Syring, director of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency. "We'll continue efforts to ensure our deployed ground-based interceptors and our overall homeland defensive architecture continue to provide the warfighter an effective and dependable system to defend the country."

The United States currently has 30 GMD interceptors deployed in Alaska and California to defend against long-range missiles from North Korea and Iran. Plans call for increasing that figure to 44 interceptors by the end of fiscal year 2017.

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