By Ann Scott Tyson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 6, 2008
The U.S. military yesterday shot down a missile in a test simulating a long-range ballistic missile attack by a potential adversary such as North Korea or Iran, senior defense officials said.
The target missile was launched from Kodiak Island, Alaska, at 3:04 p.m. Eastern time, tracked simultaneously by several ground and ship-based radars, and intercepted by a "kill vehicle" 3,000 kilometers away over the Pacific 25 minutes later, according to the Missile Defense Agency.
"It was the largest, most complex test we have ever done," Lt. Gen. Patrick O'Reilly, chief of the Missile Defense Agency, said at a Pentagon news conference after the test.
"The key to our protection . . . is to be able to have all of these different sensors simultaneously tracking" and recognizing the same object, which they did for the first time in yesterday's test, he said. "The kill vehicle was sent to a very accurate spot in space," he said, adding that the result "does give us great confidence."
However, he said the 40-year-old target missile failed to deploy its countermeasures -- such as decoys or chaff -- which were supposed to add realism to the test.
"Countermeasures are very difficult to deploy" both by the United States and potential adversaries, said O'Reilly, noting they must be lightweight and able to work during fast maneuvers outside Earth's atmosphere.
The missile defense program has come under criticism for its expense and because of questions about its ability to discern decoys.
Yesterday's test was the 13th of its kind by a ground-based interceptor since 1999, part of a missile defense program that has cost approximately $100 billion, according to Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman. Eight such tests, including the one yesterday, have succeeded in destroying the target missiles. The last one was in September 2007.
The test cost about $120 million and was aimed at "the type of long-range ballistic missile that could be used to attack the nation with a weapon of mass destruction," the agency said. The systems tested were similar to those the U.S. military deploys or will deploy in Japan and Poland, O'Reilly said.
"The geometry of a launch from North Korea to the U.S. is very similar to Kodiak off the coast of California," he said. The radars used to track the missile were the AN/TPY-2 radar located in Juneau, Alaska; a U.S. Navy Aegis BMD ship with SPY-1 radar; the Upgraded Early Warning Radar at Beale Air Force Base, Calif.; and the Sea-Based X-band radar.