U.S. test comes week after North Korea successfully launches first ICBM
The United States released footage of its successful missile defense test Tuesday in which an incoming projectile was destroyed over the Pacific Ocean.
The Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system, stationed at the Pacific Spaceport Complex Alaska in Kodiak, Alaska, can be seen using its interceptor to destroy an air-launched intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM).
Although the test was planned months in advance, North Korea’s successful launch last week of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), which experts believe is capable of reaching Alaska, has placed heightened importance on American defense – although THAAD is unable to stop ICBMs.
A statement from the U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA) Tuesday stated that the THAAD system emboldens the country’s defenses against threats such as North Korea.
“The successful demonstration of THAAD against an IRBM-range missile threat bolsters the country’s defensive capability against developing missile threats in North Korea and other countries around the globe and contributes to the broader strategic deterrence architecture,” the MDA statement said.
While the Pentagon, according to Navy Captain Jeff Davis, has asserted “confidence in our ability to defend against the limited threat,” experts remain divided as other missile defense systems have shown less success than THAAD – which has a perfect record for test interceptions.
Davis told reporters Wednesday that though the U.S. was able to intercept a simulated ICBM last May, the accuracy of the system was still lacking.
“It’s something we have mixed results on,” Davis said. “But we also have an ability to shoot more than one interceptor.”
The Ground-based Midcourse Defense system (GMD) for example “demonstrated a success rate just above 55 percent,” Reuters reported. “A second component, the Aegis system deployed aboard U.S. Navy ships and on land, had about an 83 percent success rate, according to the agency.”
However unlikely an offensive North Korean strike against the U.S. is, Pyongyang obtaining the ability to reach the U.S. with a long-range weapon – although the regime is not yet believed to have a nuclear device capable of surviving ICBM re-entry – could potentially lead to a break in the U.S. alliance with South Korea and Japan.
The two countries remain protected from North Korea given the U.S. ability to defend them with its ICBM arsenal. But once Pyongyang is capable of a retaliatory strike, the U.S. will become less likely to risk its own population to assist its Asia-Pacific allies. This issue, known as decoupling, could potentially lead South Korea and Japan to obtain nuclear weapons of their own, resulting in regional nuclear proliferation.