US Military Shoots ICBM Target Out of the Sky in Missile Defense Test

Missiles shot from California's Vandenberg Air Force Base successfully destroyed an airborne target Monday (March 25) as part of a U.S. missile defense test, military officials said.

The target was an intercontinental ballistic missile launched from the Reagan Test Site on Kwajalein Atoll in the Republic of the Marshall Islands, about 4,000 miles (6,440 kilometers) from Vandenberg.

During the test, sensors in space, on the ground and at sea helped guide two ground-based interceptors (GBI) fired from Vandenberg. The first interceptor destroyed the target, a re-entry vehicle, while the second one searched the remaining debris for other threatening objects. Since there were no re-entry vehicles in the debris, the second missile hit the next "most lethal object" in the wreckage and also destroyed it, U.S. Department of Defense Missile Defense Agency (MDA) officials said in a statement.

Related: How Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles Work (Infographic) 

"This was the first GBI salvo intercept of a complex, threat-representative ICBM target, and it was a critical milestone," Lt. Gen. Samuel A. Greaves, director of the MDA, said in the statement. "The system worked exactly as it was designed to do ... The Ground-based Midcourse Defense system is vitally important to the defense of our homeland, and this test demonstrates that we have a capable, credible deterrent against a very real threat."

A first-ever test March 25, 2019 saw two ground-based interceptors launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California intercepting an intercontinental ballistic missile target launched from a separate test site. (Image credit: U.S. Department of Defense Missile Defense Agency)

Officials added in the statement that they are evaluating the system performance to get more information, but everything received so far shows that the test "met requirements." 

This is the latest in a series of tests testing examining how the United States would respond to ICBM threats. One possible nation that could be threatening is North Korea, which has conducted its own tests and said in the past that the United States is among the nations it hopes to destroy.

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell, Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022. She was contributing writer for Space.com (opens in new tab) for 10 years before that, since 2012. Elizabeth's reporting includes an exclusive with Office of the Vice-President of the United States, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and (soon) a Bachelor of History from Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science since 2015. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: https://qoto.org/@howellspace