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.
"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."
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.
Elizabeth Howell is a contributing writer for Space.com who is one of the few Canadian journalists to report regularly on space exploration. She is pursuing a Ph.D. part-time in aerospace sciences (University of North Dakota) after completing an M.Sc. (space studies) at the same institution. She also holds a bachelor of journalism degree from Carleton University. Besides writing, Elizabeth teaches communications at the university and community college level. To see her latest projects, follow Elizabeth on Twitter at @HowellSpace.