Pentagon missile defense program scores direct hit

WASHINGTON (AP) — A U.S. interceptor scored a direct hit and appeared to result in the “complete obliteration” of a mock warhead over the Pacific Ocean in what the Pentagon said Wednesday was a realistic test that mirrored the missile threat from North Korea and Iran.

Vice Adm. Jim Syring, director of the Defense Department’s Missile Defense Agency, told Pentagon reporters that the test included decoys and replicated a very specific scenario in the Pacific.

“I was confident before the test that we had the capability to defeat any threat that they would throw at us, and I’m even more confident today after seeing the intercept test yesterday, that we continue to be on that course,” Syring said.

Tuesday’s test was a critical milestone for a program that has been hampered by setbacks over the years, he said.

Despite the success, the $244 million test didn’t confirm that under wartime conditions the U.S. could intercept an intercontinental-range missile fired by North Korea. The North 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.

Syring, however, said that the test was based on intelligence projections of where the missile threat to the United States would be in 2020. He said the results show that the U.S. program is progressing “ahead of where we believe the threat will go in terms of complexity, countermeasures and consideration for capacity down the road.”

Philip E. Coyle, a former head of the Pentagon’s test and evaluation office and a senior fellow at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, said the outcome was a significant success for a test that was three years in preparation. Still, he noted it was only the second success in the last five intercept attempts since 2010.

“In several ways, this test was a $244 million-dollar baby step, a baby step that took three years,” Coyle said.

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