The United States Missile Defense Agency said yesterday that, for the first time in history, it had successfully intercepted a simulated intercontinental ballistic missile (or ICBM) flying through outer space. With a typical closing speed of over 10,000 miles per hour, saying it was like “hitting a bullet with a bullet” isn’t enough. UPDATE
While it wasn’t quite like the challenge of knocking out an actual incoming ICBM, what with their unpredictability, range, counter-countermeasures, mass numbers and all, this is as close as the American military has ever gotten. The target vehicle was launched from the Kwajalein Atoll, a tiny tropical island in the Pacific Ocean, and the kill vehicle was launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
It’s a start.
UPDATE: Vice Admiral Jim Syring, the head of the Missile Defense Agency, gave a press conference today in which he gave a little more information about the test.
“Although this was a developmental test, this is exactly the scenario we would expect to occur during an actual operational engagement,” Syring said. “Based on all the data we’ve received to date and all indications are that all our systems performed exactly as designed and this test represents a critical — critical milestone in the life of the program.”
And in a bit of a surprise move, the test actually involved decoys as counter-countermeasures, though Syring would not get into specifics. The test was not intended to replicate an American design, such as a Minuteman missile, however. Rather, it was designed to replicate a threat scenario from a country like Iran or North Korea.
But while Syrling said that this sort of test should be able to defeat anything those countries have got until 2020, a much bigger threat will emerge when those countries are capable of firing salvos of multiple missiles at once. And the first intercept test of a multiple-missile salvo is only expected to take place in 2023, at the earliest.
(For what it’s worth, countries like the U.S., Russia, and China have been capable of potentially launching thousands of ICBMs at once for decades now, so this system wouldn’t really do anything to stop the apocalypse.)
Syring went on to say that despite the use of an additional X-band radar system to help gather useful data from the test, the system is actually capable of operating without it – which could be an issue, as the X-band radar systems can take a while to get into position.
All that being said, the test resulted in a “complete obliteration” of the target.