Pentagon to test missile defense system on Tuesday amid N. Korea threats

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The Pentagon is making moves that indicate it is taking North Korea very seriously.   With the threat posed by North Korea growing on a daily basis, the Pentagon is about to test the missile defense system that would be used to defend the U.S. against a ballistic missile attack.

The Pentagon announced on Friday that it will be testing the intercept missile defense system to ensure it can shoot down an intercontinental-range ballistic missile (ICBM) fired by North Korea.  The Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency scheduled the intercept test for this coming Tuesday.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has vowed to field a nuclear-armed missile capable of reaching the U.S. Although the rouge state hasn’t successfully tested an ICBM, officials say Kim is getting more aggressive in his testing and development.  According to the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, Marine Lt. Gen. Vincent Stewart, “left unchecked, Kim will succeed.”

Experts say the U.S. missile defense system that could be used against a North Korean ballistic missile is technologically challenging.  Even worse, according to some critics, the system is unreliable. Since 1999, it has only succeeded in 9 of 17 attempts against “less-then-intercontinental-range-missiles.” Most recently, a test in June of 2014 was successful. However the three previous attempts were not.

According to the Associated Press:

The basic defensive idea is to fire a rocket into space upon warning of a hostile missile launch. The rocket releases a 5-foot-long device called a “kill vehicle” that uses internal guidance systems to steer into the path of the oncoming missile’s warhead, destroying it by force of impact. Officially known as the Ground-based Midcourse Defense system, the Pentagon likens it to hitting a bullet with a bullet.

The Missile Defense Agency is responsible for developing and testing the system. They will launch the interceptor from an underground silo at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The target will come from a test range on Kwajalein Atoll in the Pacific. The target will fly faster than the missiles used in previous intercept tests in order to closely simulate a North Korean missile.

A spokesman for the Missile Defense Agency, Christopher Johnson, said they will conduct tests that are “increasingly complex” as the program progresses. “Testing against an ICBM-type threat is the next step in that process,” he said.

If the test is successful, the “kill vehicle” will hit the simulated ICBM’s mock warhead somewhere over the Pacific Ocean. Officials say they’re looking for progress, and that Tuesday’s attempt is not a make-or-break test.  The goal is to eventually shoot down a small number of ICBM’s “reliably.”

The interceptor system has not been fully tested or used in combat, and the Pentagon has asked congress for $7.9 billion to improve the missile defense system, and to build new programs to protect the U.S. from ICBMs.

Some experts say shooting missiles down is expensive and doesn’t work. They say it would be more productive to work on defense systems that destroy or disable missiles before they can be launched.

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