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Vandenberg shoots down dummy ICBM in ‘milestone’ test of national defense system

Watch a Minuteman III missile launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base

Vandenberg Air Force Base launched an unarmed Minuteman III missile from Lompoc, California on Tuesday, February 5, 2019.
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Vandenberg Air Force Base launched an unarmed Minuteman III missile from Lompoc, California on Tuesday, February 5, 2019.

The United States Missile Defense Agency fired interceptor missiles from Vandenberg Air Force Base on Monday in a successful first-of-its-kind test of the nation’s missile defense program.

The test was meant to practice how well the U.S. military could respond in the event of a missile being shot from another country like North Korea or Iran.

Officials said the two interceptor missiles — which were launched at around 10:30 a.m. — hit their target. Shortly after the launch, twin contrails could be seen in the sky over the region.

The Department of Defense said an intercontinental ballistic missile was shot from the Reagan Test Site on Kwajalein Atoll in the Republic of the Marshall Islands about 4,000 miles away, which acted as a dummy target for the interceptors shot from Vandenberg Air Force Base. The missile was successfully intercepted, according to a DoD news release.

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Infrared image of a successful intercept of a threat-representative ICBM target by two long-range Ground-based Interceptors launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., March 25, 2019. Missile Defense Agency

“This was the first GBI salvo intercept of a complex, threat-representative ICBM target, and it was a critical milestone,” MDA Director Air Force Lt. Gen. Samuel A. Greaves said in a news release Monday afternoon. “The system worked exactly as it was designed to do, and the results of this test provide evidence of the practicable use of the salvo doctrine within missile defense.”

“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,” he added.

The sudden test came as a surprise to many people in the Central Coast area, since most missile launches out of the local Air Force base are scheduled and announced months in advance.

A Bloomberg report on Sunday revealed the Pentagon was planning a test for Monday that would fire two interceptors “tipped with Raytheon Co. warheads” to test the military’s ability to defend against incoming missiles.

Cristina Chaplain, the space and missile defense systems director for the Government Accountability Office, told Bloomberg it “may be the most challenging test in the program’s near 30-year history.”

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