Washington (July 12, 2017): A United States-built missile defense system on Tuesday successfully intercepted its target during a test run.
The US Missile Defense Agency said in a statement that the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile defense system successfully shot down a target over Alaska.
“I couldn’t be more proud of the government and contractor team who executed this flight test today,” said MDA Director Lt. Gen. Sam Greaves in the statement. “This test further demonstrates the capabilities of the THAAD weapon system and its ability to intercept and destroy ballistic missile threats.”
It’s is designed to shoot down short, medium and intermediate ballistic missiles with shorter ranges than the ICBM that North Korea launched July 4.
The radar first detects an incoming missile. Those manning the system identify the threat, then a launcher mounted to a truck fires a projectile, which Lockheed Martin calls an “interceptor,” at the ballistic missile in the hopes of destroying it using kinetic energy — basically just its sheer speed.
In the wake of the ICBM test, the US military and intelligence communities began to take a second look at the latest intelligence about North Korea’s nuclear warhead program, according to two US defense officials.
North Korea has previously claimed it has successfully miniaturized a nuclear warhead that could go on the front end of an intercontinental ballistic missile.
Though analysts say it’s quite difficult to verify that claim, US commanders have decided, for the purposes of planning military options, they have to assume Pyongyang has that capability.
“I know there’s some debate about the miniaturization advancements made by Pyongyang,” Adm. Harry Harris, head of US Pacific Command, said in a speech last month. “I take him at his word. I must assume his claims are true — I know his aspirations certainly are.”
The escalation of Pyongyang’s nuclear program also has prompted a closer look at the effectiveness of missile defense systems maintained by the United States and its allies.
The US military had already begun deploying the THAAD system in South Korea earlier this year, much to the chagrin of some of Seoul’s neighbors.