The U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA) on Monday conducted a successful test of its Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system designed to counter intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) threats from Iran and North Korea.
Monday’s test was the first time the GMD attempted a salvo engagement, with two interceptors intended to strike an ICBM-level target fired from 4000 miles away.
“This test was the first salvo engagement of a threat-representative ICBM target by two Ground Based Interceptors (GBI), which were designated GBI-Lead, and GBI-Trail for the test,” the MDA said in a press release.
“The GBI-Lead destroyed the reentry vehicle, as it was designed to do. The GBI-Trail then looked at the resulting debris and remaining objects, and, not finding any other reentry vehicles, selected the next ‘most lethal object’ it could identify, and struck that, precisely as it was designed to do.”
The ICBM target was launched from the Reagan Test Site on Kwajalein Atoll in the Republic of the Marshall Islands, while the two ground-based interceptors, were launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California on Monday morning.
“This was the first GBI salvo intercept of a complex, threat-representative ICBM target, and it was a critical milestone,” MDA Director Air Force Lt. Gen. Samuel A. Greaves said in a press release.
“The system worked exactly as it was designed to do, and the results of this test provide evidence of the practicable use of the salvo doctrine within missile defense,” he continued.
“The Ground-based Midcourse Defense system is vitally important to the defense of our homeland, and this test demonstrates that we have a capable, credible deterrent against a very real threat.”
The test was the GMD’s first since a successful trial in May 2017, though overall its record is patchy, with 11 successful interceptions out of 19 attempts.
Video of the FTG-11 missile test, a two vehicle salvo, coming up out of Vandenberg AFB at 10:30am today as seen from Pismo Beach, CA (we initially they might have been space-bound) pic.twitter.com/MG2CqLcFTK
— Nick Wade ? (@wadenick) March 25, 2019
Intercepting ICMB’s represents significant challenges and, on paper, the GMD system lags behind other missile defense systems such as the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system currently deployed in South Korea.
But the inconsistent record did not stop Boeing CEO Leanne Caret from telling CNBC in September 2017 that the GMD system could protect the U.S. from North Korean attacks.
Caret answered unequivocally “yes” when asked if the GMD system could defend the United States from the DPRK launched ICBMs.
“I had the opportunity to be there for the test at the end of May… We hit a bullet with a bullet,” Caret said.
North Korea has not publicly tested any missiles since November 2017, when it conducted its first-ever launch of the Hwasong-15 ICBM class missile.
The Hwasong-15 may have a range of up to 13,000km, and North Korea claimed at the time via state media that the missile can hit “entire region of the U.S. mainland.”
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured image: MDA