The U.S. military destroyed a mock intercontinental ballistic missile thousands of miles over the Pacific for the first time Tuesday, a step forward for a missile-defense program that has taken on new significance in light of North Korean threats.
China has called on Pyongyang to suspend its nuclear and missile testing while calling on the United States to stop military exercises on and near the Korean Peninsula which North Korea sees as a threat to its sovereignty.
The Pentagon's testing and program evaluation office a year ago admitted it has only a "limited capability" to defend the United States from ballistic missile attacks, and - despite another $37 billion having already been earmarked for these programs between now and 2021 - the Government Accountability Office reported Tuesday that the Pentagon's current ballistic missile defenses "will not likely provide robust defense as planned".
"The intercept of a complex, threat-representative ICBM target is an incredible accomplishment for the GMD system and a critical milestone for this program", said MDA Director Vice Adm. Jim Syring. If successful, the "kill vehicle" or intercept will collide with the ICBM test target mid-course over the Pacific Ocean.
The latest launch on Monday was the third in three weeks.
The short-range ballistic missile traveled an estimated 248 miles, splashing down within Japan's exclusive economic zone, an area of sea where commercial ships are known to operate.
Such launches, and two nuclear tests since January 2016, have been conducted in defiance of United Nations resolutions and the threat of more sanctions.
North Korea said shortly after the test that they were ready to mass produce medium-range ballistic missiles capable of reaching Japan and US military bases there.
In early March, North Korea launched five medium-range Scud-er (extended range) missiles. Vandenberg has launched test missiles in the past to flawless the military's missile defense system.
THAAD has failed three of its most recent tests - all of which involved intercepting missiles of much more limited speed and range. "At this point, North Korea appears to be working to develop missiles which can cover greater ranges and, ostensibly, reach the continental US or Hawaii", NK News Director of Intelligence John Grisafi said.
They also pose one of the greatest security challenges for US President Donald Trump, who portrayed the latest missile test as an affront to China. "This system is among our industry's most complex, and its advancement ensures the protection of the US and its allies". Just hours after the meeting, chaired by Tillerson, Pyongyang launched yet another ballistic missile. After the recent test of the KN-15, South Korea's defense minister said that North Korea's ballistic missile program is progressing much faster than expected. Traditionally, the United States and China have negotiated new sanctions before involving the other 13 council members. To truly threaten the United States, North Korea would have to demonstrate that it has a missile that can reach the West Coast or farther inland, and it would have to learn how to shrink a nuclear warhead to fit atop an intercontinental missile and survive the stresses of re-entering the atmosphere.