Following a series of North Korean missile tests, the latest of which occurred on Sunday, the U.S. military has conducted a missile defense test aimed to protect the nation from a targeted attack. The test, which took place Tuesday at the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, was deemed successful by U.S. officials after an upgraded long-range interceptor missile directly collided with its target—a mock intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). North Korea is widely believed to be developing an ICBM capable of reaching the U.S. mainland. Should the nation launch an attack that threatens the U.S., South Korea, or Japan, U.S. policy calls for the missile to be shot down.
In a statement, the director of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency, Jim Syring, called the United States’s Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system “vitally important to the defense of our homeland.” Tuesday’s test “demonstrates that we have a capable, credible deterrent against a very real threat,” he said. It also marks the nation’s first live-fire test against a simulated ICBM. Before Tuesday, the most recent test was conducted in 2014. In the past, intercepting an ICBM has proven incredibly difficult—akin to hitting one bullet with another at an exceptional distance, officials say. Since 1999, the GMD system has hit its target in just nine out of 17 tests, with many tests suffering from mechanical difficulties.