A THAAD anti-missile system hit-to-kill projectile launched from Alaska destroyed an intermediate-range missile target over the Pacific on Tuesday in the 14th consecutive successful test for the system recently deployed to South Korea, the Missile Defense Agency reported.
The Lockheed Martin Terminal High Altitude Area Defense launchers have never been used in combat, but the MDA said in a statement that Army troops from the 11th Air Defense Artillery Brigade in Kodiak, Alaska, carried out "the same procedures they would use in an actual combat scenario."
The soldiers also "were not aware of the actual target launch time," the statement said.
"I couldn't be more proud of the government and contractor team who executed this flight test today," said Air Force Lt. Gen. Sam Greaves, the Missile Defense Agency director.
"This test further demonstrates the capabilities of the THAAD weapon system and its ability to intercept and destroy ballistic missile threats. THAAD continues to protect our citizens, deployed forces and allies from a real and growing threat," Greaves said.
The U.S. has deployed two THAAD launchers to Seongju province on a former golf course south of Seoul over the protests of local residents, but the new government of President Moon Jae-in has balked at installing a full battery of six launchers pending an environmental study.
The pressure on Seoul to deploy the full battery has increased since North Korea's July 4 test launch of a missile initially identified as an IRBM, or Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile, by U.S. Pacific Command but later classified by the U.S. military as an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) with the range to hit Alaska.
THAAD was not designed to defend against ICBMs, but the advance in North Korean missile technology shown by the ICBM test launch has given urgency to the need for more defenses against the North's wide array of short- and intermediate-range missiles. There are no immediate plans to do THAAD test launches from South Korea, officials said.
The THAAD test launch from Alaska had long been planned but followed closely on two shows of force to demonstrate U.S. and South Korean resolve against North Korea since the ICBM launch.
Last Saturday, two U.S. B-1 bombers flew from Guam over South Korea and dropped dummy bombs on a test range while escorted by South Korean and later Japanese fighters. Hours after the North Korean ICBM launch on July 4, U.S. and South Korean batteries fired short-range, surface-to-surface missiles that splashed down off South Korea's east coast.
The MDA statement said that the launch Tuesday from Kodiak island "was the 14th successful intercept in 14 attempts for the THAAD weapon system" and would bolster the U.S. "defensive capability against developing missile threats in North Korea and other countries around the globe" while contributing "to the broader strategic deterrence architecture."
The success rate for the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) interceptors in tests against ICBM-class targets is much spottier.
On May 30, a GMD interceptor missile launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California against an ICBM-class target launched from the Reagan Test Site on Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands resulted in a "direct collision," the MDA said in a statement. The GMD had been successful in eight of 17 previous test launches.
The THAAD test Tuesday was supported by elements of the U.S. Army, Joint Forces Component Command for Integrated Missile Defense, U.S. Air Force, U.S. Coast Guard, Pacific Spaceport Complex Alaska (PSCA), Ballistic Missile Defense Operational Test Agency, DoD Operational Test and Evaluation, and the Army Test and Evaluation Command, the MDA said.
In the test, an intermediate-range ballistic missile target was air-launched by a U.S. Air Force C-17 over the Pacific north of Hawaii, and the THAAD system located at PSCA in Kodiak detected, tracked and intercepted the target, the MDA said.