WASHINGTON — The Pentagon said it successfully used a “kill vehicle” to knock down an intercontinental ballistic missile over the Pacific Ocean on Tuesday as North Korea ramps up its belligerent behavior, according to several reports.
The test involved the Pentagon Missile Defense Agency launching an ICBM from a base in the Republic of the Marshall Islands and firing a ground-based rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California 4,200 miles away to intercept it.
The intercept rocket released a 5-foot-long “kill vehicle” that collided with the mock warhead over the Pacific and destroyed it through the sheer force of the impact, an endeavor likened to shooting a bullet with a bullet.
While it appeared to be a specific test of whether the US military can counter a North Korea missile launch, the Pentagon said the exercise had been planned for years to determine America’s capability to knock down any threatening missiles, including from Iran.
The most recent test of the missile defense system in June 2014 was successful and the Pentagon continues to upgrade its equipment. But of the nine attempts since 2004, five failed.
“This is part of a continuous learning curve,” said Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman.
“We improve and learn from each test, regardless of the outcome. That’s the reason we conduct them,” he said. “We look forward to understanding the results so we can continue to mature the system and stay ahead of the threat.”
The testing of the missile defense system comes just days after Pyongyang fired a short-range missile about 280 miles into the Sea of Japan.
Monday’s launch was the third test-firing of rocket in the past three weeks.
North Korea has launched 12 missiles during nine tests so far in 2017, as the reclusive regime experiments with developing the capability to strike the US mainland.