A major test of a troubled U.S. homeland missile defense system is set for June 22, two anonymous sources told Reuters on Wednesday.
Top Pentagon officials have said an intercept test of the Ground-based Midcourse Defense system will take place sometime this month but have declined to publicly state when that would be. The Missile Defense Agency says it cannot give out the date of a test until five to seven days before the event.
Much rides on the coming missile intercept attempt. The GMD system -- the nation's principal defense against a limited, long-range ballistic missile attack -- has not successfully destroyed a target threat since late 2008, despite multiple attempts since then.
The Missile Defense Agency says it believes it has corrected the technical problems that led to the interceptor's second-generation kinetic kill vehicle failing in two prior intercept trials. The so-called "CE-2" component was used in a successful non-intercept flight test in early 2013 that officials said showed new fixes to the technology were working.
In response to North Korea's threats of nuclear attack, the Pentagon announced last year it would expand the Ground-based Midcourse Defense system by adding an additional 14 long-range interceptors to a site in Alaska before the end of 2017. Critics of the plan say it would be folly to spend approximately $1 billion purchasing the new missiles when the technology has had such a rocky testing track-record.
Peppino DeBiaso, head of antimissile policy at the Defense Department, told a crowd at the Brookings Institution on Wednesday that the planned expansion from 30 to 44 Ground Based Interceptors would proceed regardless of whether the June test is successful. What would be at issue in the event of an anomaly, however, is the timing of the deployment of the new missiles, the official said.
"We're going to have to wait until we get to that point [after the test] in order to determine exactly what the impact might be on the timing of getting those additional 14 in silos and [making them] operational systems," DeBiaso said.