U.S. defense system hits test missile over Pacific

Test flight test of the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system is launched by the 30th Space Wing and the U.S. Missile Defense Agency at the Vandenberg AFB, Calif. on June 22, 2014 GENE BLEVINS, REUTERS

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- The U.S. military intercepted a target over the Pacific Ocean on Sunday in a test of the nation's Ballistic Missile Defense System.

A long-range interceptor blasted off from Vandenberg Air Force Base on the central California coast, minutes after an intermediate-range ballistic missile was launched from Kwajalein Atoll in the Pacific Ocean, the Missile Defense Agency said in a statement.

Sailors aboard the USS Hopper destroyer detected and tracked the missile, and the interceptor struck the target warhead. Officials said it appears all components of the test performed as designed.

"This is a very important step in our continuing efforts to improve and increase the reliability of our homeland ballistic missile defense system," said Navy Vice Adm. James D. Syring, Missile Defense Agency director.

Program officials will spend the next several months assessing the data obtained during the test.

It was the 65th successful intercept since 2001 for the Ballistic Missile Defense System, but the first successful test since 2008, the Reuters news agency reports.

"The intercept will help validate the troubled Boeing-run Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system which provides the sole U.S. defense against long-range ballistic missiles, and the Raytheon Co. kill vehicle that separates from the rocket and hits an incoming warhead," Reuters says.

Reuters reported Friday that the Pentagon is restructuring its $3.48 billion contract with Boeing for

management of the missile defense system to put more emphasis on maintenance and reliability.

"Sunday's high-stakes test came after the system had failed to hit a dummy missile in five of eight previous tests since the Bush administration rushed to deploy the system in 2004 to counter growing threats by North Korea," Reuters points out.

A crew of U.S. Army soldiers from the 100th Missile Defense Brigade based in Colorado's Schriever Air Force Base remotely launched the interceptor on Sunday.

Kwajalein is a small atoll in the Republic of the Marshall Islands where the U.S. maintains a ballistic missile defense site. It's halfway between Hawaii and Australia.

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