Pentagon Conducts First Test to Shoot Down Intercontinental Ballistic Missile

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Defense contractor Raytheon, who produced the exo-atmospheric kill vehicle (EKV) that slammed into the target, also cheered the test, which was the tenth time the GMD system had intercepted its target outside of the Earth's atmosphere, in space.

Riki Ellison, the founder of the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance based near Washington which advocates for the development and deployment of missile defense systems to defend the United States, described the test as "vital". Before Tuesday's test, the GMD system had taken out nine out of 17 targets - a success rate of just over 50 percent.

This system is vitally important to the defence of our homeland, and this test demonstrates that we have a capable, credible deterrent against a very real threat, he said.

The test came amid growing fears about North Korea's advancing Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) capability.

A defensive system "is not something we had developed on par with our offensive capabilities", said David Maxwell, associate director of the Center for Security Studies at Georgetown University.

The state has stressed that it will continue to develop a pre-emptive strike capability.

Vice Admiral Jim Syring, director of the Pentagon agency in charge of developing the missile defence system, said it was an incredible accomplishment.

"First, a missile target took off from an island in the western Pacific".

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Earlier in the day, the Pentagon had portrayed the test as a response to a threat from North Korea, which has sped up development of missiles that could someday carry a nuclear weapon to the US homeland.

"This is part of a continuous learning curve", said Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, ahead of Tuesday's test. The latest test was of a short-range ballistic missile, which landed in the Sea of Japan on Monday.

The ICBM was launched from Kwajalein Atoll in the Pacific and was equipped with a warhead which would approximate the qualities of a nuclear warhead.

North Korea says its nuclear and missile programmes are a defence against perceived USA military threats.

Officials said the test of the Ground Based Midcourse Defence (GMD) system at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California was successful. 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 program comprises command-and-control facilities, communications terminals and a 20,000-mile fiber-optic communications network that interfaces with ballistic missile defense radars and other sensors.

Not all were pleased by the test, however. These include the Patriot missile, which numerous countries have purchased from the USA, and the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, which the US deployed this year to South Korea to defend against medium-range missiles from North Korea.

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