US aims for new mis­sile-in­ter­cep­tion test

CityPress - - News -

The US plans to carry out a new test of its mis­sile de­fence sys­tem against an in­ter­me­di­ate-range bal­lis­tic mis­sile in the next few days, two US of­fi­cials have said, as ten­sions with North Korea in­crease.

De­spite be­ing planned months ago, the US mis­sile de­fence test will gain sig­nif­i­cance in the wake of North Korea’s launch of an in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal bal­lis­tic mis­sile on Tues­day, which has height­ened con­cerns about a threat from Py­ongyang.

The test will be the first of the Ter­mi­nal High Al­ti­tude Area De­fence (Thaad) to de­fend against a sim­u­lated attack by an in­ter­me­di­ate-range bal­lis­tic mis­sile (IRBM), one of the of­fi­cials said. The Thaad in­ter­cep­tors will be fired from Alaska.

The US has Thaad in­ter­cep­tors in Guam that are meant to help guard against a mis­sile attack from a coun­try such as North Korea.

The of­fi­cials, who dis­closed to Reuters the pre­cise na­ture and tim­ing of the up­com­ing test, spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity.

The US Mis­sile De­fence Agency con­firmed that it aimed to carry out a Thaad flight test “in early July”.

Agency spokesper­son Chris John­son said the Thaad weapon sys­tem at Pa­cific Space­port Com­plex – Alaska in Ko­diak, Alaska, would “de­tect, track and en­gage a tar­get with a Thaad in­ter­cep­tor”.

“The test is des­ig­nated as flight test Thaad – FTT-18,” John­son said. He did not elab­o­rate.

Still, in re­cent tes­ti­mony to Congress, Vice-Ad­mi­ral James Syring, then the di­rec­tor of the Mis­sile De­fence Agency, said FTT-18 would aim to demon­strate Thaad’s abil­ity to in­ter­cept an IRBM tar­get.

The Mis­sile De­fence Agency said Thaad had a 100% suc­cess­ful track record in its 13 flight tests since 2006.

Thaad is a ground-based mis­sile de­fence sys­tem de­signed to shoot down short-, medium- and in­ter­me­di­ate-range bal­lis­tic mis­siles.

Lock­heed Martin, the prime con­trac­tor for the Thaad sys­tem, said it had the abil­ity to in­ter­cept in­com­ing mis­siles, both in­side and out­side Earth’s at­mos­phere.

This year’s US de­ploy­ment of Thaad in South Korea to guard against North Korea’s shorter-range mis­siles has also drawn fierce crit­i­cism from China, which says the sys­tem’s pow­er­ful radar can probe deep into its ter­ri­tory.

Ear­lier this month, Moscow and Beijing, in a joint state­ment, called on Wash­ing­ton to im­me­di­ately halt de­ploy­ment of Thaad in South Korea.

The state­ment said Wash­ing­ton was us­ing North Korea as a pre­text to ex­pand its mil­i­tary in­fras­truc­ture in Asia and risked up­set­ting the strate­gic bal­ance of power in the re­gion.

Thaad’s success rate in test­ing is far higher than the one for the US’s Ground-based Mid­course De­fence sys­tem (GMD), the sys­tem specifically de­signed to shoot down an ICBM headed for the US main­land.

That GMD sys­tem has only a 55% success rate over the life of the pro­gramme. But ad­vo­cates note that the tech­nol­ogy has im­proved dra­mat­i­cally in re­cent years. In a key de­vel­op­ment, the GMD sys­tem suc­cess­fully shot down an in­com­ing sim­u­lated North Korean ICBM in a test in May.

That led the Pen­tagon to up­grade its as­sess­ment of the US’s abil­ity to de­fend against a small num­ber of ICBMs, ac­cord­ing to an in­ter­nal memo seen by Reuters.

The Mis­sile De­fence Agency last month told Congress that it planned to de­liver 52 more Thaad in­ter­cep­tors to the US army be­tween October and Septem­ber next year.

In a sign of US con­gres­sional con­cern about mis­sile de­fence, sev­eral legislators filed amend­ments to a de­fence pol­icy bill on Fri­day that ad­dressed North Korea. Repub­li­can rep­re­sen­ta­tive Don Young, whose home state Alaska is seen as es­pe­cially vul­ner­a­ble to a North Korea threat, asked for more ground-based in­ter­cep­tors for his state.

Demo­cratic rep­re­sen­ta­tives John Cony­ers and Sheila Jackson Lee, along with Repub­li­can Wal­ter Jones, filed an amend­ment to the an­nual Na­tional De­fence au­tho­riza­tion Act, say­ing that noth­ing in the bill should be con­strued as au­tho­ris­ing the use of force against North Korea.

The full House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives is due to con­sider the bill, and its amend­ments, next week.

– Reuters

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