U.S. tests ICBM interceptor missile amid rising tensions with North Korea

The system, which has been operational since 2004 and has cost about $40 billion, is created to shoot down an incoming ICBM with interceptors launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., or Fort Greely, Alaska.

But the USA officials downplayed the timing of the successful launch, occurring just days after the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) test fired its third intercontinental ballistic missile in a week and the ninth test so far this year.

North Korea has carried out three missile tests in less than three weeks, defying United Nations warnings that it faces new sanctions.

The test involved a threat representative intercontinental ballistic missile class target to be fired from the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site in the Marshall Islands and a ground-based interceptor from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

"This is one element of a broader missile defence strategy that we can use to employ against potential threats", Pentagon spokesman Captain Jeff Davis said.

"(The Chinese) have the lay of the land and so we're going to keep the pressure on China, but we're going to continue to work with them in any way that they think is best, and I think that we'll decide this week on what that looks like", Haley told reporters. However, that missile is just one weapon among North Korea's arsenal.

It was the latest in a recent string of North Korean missile tests, including two that exploded shortly after launch.

The GMD element of the ballistic missile defense system provides combatant commanders the capability to engage and destroy intermediate and long-range ballistic missile threats to protect the USA, according to the MDA. It came a day after North Korea test-fired yet another ballistic missile, the latest in a series of launches that have ratcheted up tensions over Pyongyang's quest to develop weapons capable of hitting the United States.

A test failure would raise new questions about the defensive system. The interceptor's target would be an intercontinental-range missile fired from a test range on Kwajalein Atoll in the Pacific.

The planned target is a custom-made missile meant to simulate an ICBM, meaning it will fly faster than missiles used in previous intercept tests, according to Christopher Johnson, the Missile Defense Agency's spokesman.

The test interceptor is equipped with an Exo-atmospheric Kill Vehicle (EKV), which is supposed to destroy the target vehicle with a direct hit.

The U.S. military's test comes on the heels of North Korea's reported launch of a military projectile Monday morning that landed in Japan's maritime economic zone.

The Pentagon declared the missile-defense system ready for combat in 2004, but its testing history has been mixed. With congressional support, the Pentagon is increasing by the end of this year the number of deployed interceptors, based in California and Alaska, to 44 from the current total of 36.

The Pentagon has other elements of missile defence that have shown to be more reliable, although they are created to work against medium-range or shorter-range ballistic missiles.

  • Leroy Wright