Pentagon de­clares de­fense test a success af­ter mis­sile in­ter­cep­tor de­stroys mock war­head

Chattanooga Times Free Press - - NATION - BY ROBERT BURNS

WASH­ING­TON — The Pentagon scored an im­por­tant success Tues­day in a test of its oft-crit­i­cized mis­sile de­fense pro­gram, de­stroy­ing a mock war­head over the Pa­cific Ocean with an in­ter­cep­tor key to pro­tect­ing U.S. ter­ri­tory from a North Korean at­tack.

Vice Adm. Jim Syring, direc­tor of the Pentagon agency in charge of de­vel­op­ing the mis­sile de­fense sys­tem, called the test re­sult “an in­cred­i­ble ac­com­plish­ment” and a crit­i­cal mile­stone for a pro­gram ham­pered by set­backs over the years. “This 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,” Syring said in a writ­ten state­ment an­nounc­ing the test re­sult.

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. Py­ongyang 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’s agency sounded a note of cau­tion. “Ini­tial in­di­ca­tions are that the test met its pri­mary ob­jec­tive, but pro­gram of­fi­cials will con­tinue to eval­u­ate sys­tem per­for­mance based upon teleme­try and other data ob­tained dur­ing the test,” his state­ment said.

The most re­cent in­ter­cept test, in June 2014, was suc­cess­ful, but the longer track record is spotty. Since the sys­tem was de­clared ready for po­ten­tial com­bat use in 2004, only four of nine in­ter­cept at­tempts have been suc­cess­ful.

“This is part of a con­tin­u­ous learn­ing curve,” said Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, ahead of Tues­day’s test. The Pentagon is still in­cor­po­rat­ing en­gi­neer­ing up­grades to its mis­sile in­ter­cep­tor, which has yet to be fully tested in re­al­is­tic con­di­tions.

North Korea said its nu­clear and mis­sile pro­grams are a de­fense against per­ceived U.S. mil­i­tary threats. Its ac­cel­er­at­ing mis­sile devel­op­ment has com­pli­cated Pentagon cal­cu­la­tions, most re­cently by in­cor­po­rat­ing solid-fuel tech­nol­ogy into its rock­ets. The step would mean even less launch warn­ing time for the United States. Liq­uid fuel is less sta­ble and rock­ets us­ing it have to be fu­eled in the field, a process that takes longer and can be de­tected by satel­lites.

Un­der­scor­ing its un­in­ter­rupted ef­forts, North Korea on Mon­day fired a short­range bal­lis­tic mis­sile that landed in Ja­pan’s mar­itime eco­nomic zone.

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