In a report that raises further questions about the US's ability to respond to a ballistic missile attack from North Korea or one of its other adversaries, CNN said the US conducted an unsuccessful missile defense test on Wednesday.
The missile, which was launched from land in Hawaii, failed to intercept an incoming target. The Pentagon is not publicly acknowledging the failure of what's supposed to be a crucial missile defense system. CNN's anonymous sources blamed the Pentagon's reticence on the upcoming Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, which are slated to begin Feb. 9.
Officials: US missile defense test failed in Hawaii early Weds. Pentagon not publicly acknowledging key ballistic missile defense test failure & officials tell @barbarastarrcnn there is a decision to not talk about it, in part because of sensitivities surrounding North Korea.— Will Ripley (@willripleyCNN) January 31, 2018
US Department of Defense officials are trying to determine what went wrong, but so far, all the Pentagon will officially say is that a test took place.
"The Missile Defense Agency and US Navy sailors manning the Aegis Ashore Missile Defense Test Complex (AAMDTC) conducted a live-fire missile flight test using a Standard-Missile (SM)-3 Block IIA missile launched from the Pacific Missile Range Facility, Kauai, Hawaii, Wednesday morning," Defense Department spokesman Mark Wright said.
To be sure, the missile, which is reportedly still in development, represents a key advancement in US defense capabilities as it is designed to eventually intercept the type of intercontinental range missile that North Korea has vowed to launch against the US.
The missile is used to target intermediate range missiles from adversaries - something that Trump has claimed works "97%" of the time.
Last year, the White House requested another $4 billion in funding for the Pentagon with the express purpose of improving the US's missile intercepts along the West Coast, Alaska and Hawaii.
As Andrei Akulov of the Strategic Culture Foundation pointed out back in October, shortly after Trump made the "97%" remark, the notion that our missile defense system will be able to stymie a North Korean nuclear missile strike is a "dangerous illusion."
The US is pushing ahead with expansion of the nation’s homeland ballistic missile defense (BMD). The effort enjoys strong bipartisan support in Congress and among experts. Many allies place a high value on BMD cooperation with the United States. However, there are ample reasons to question the efficiency of US missile defenses, especially the capability to protect against intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).
It is generally believed that it takes at least four-five interceptors to hit the target. It means President Trump is off base saying the hit probability is 97%. Prior to the ICBM test, the GMD system had successfully hit its target in only ten of 18 tests since 1999. A success rate is about 56%, not 97%. But even 56% is almost certainly an overstatement, given the less-than-realistic nature of the tests.
Defense News offered more details about the missile, identifying it as a SM-3 Block IIA. The missile was fired from an Aegis Ashore test site in Hawaii.
If confirmed, it would mark the second unsuccessful test of the Raytheon missile in the past year. It also deals a setback to US missile defense efforts as North Korea makes seemingly daily progress on it goal of striking the U.S. mainland with nuclear-armed missiles.
When reached for comment by DD, US Missile Defense Agency spokesman Mark Wright declined to comment on the outcome of the test.
“The Missile Defense Agency and U.S. Navy sailors manning the Aegis Ashore Missile Defense Test Complex (AAMDTC) conducted a live-fire missile flight test using a Standard-Missile (SM)-3 Block IIA missile launched from the Pacific Missile Range Facility, Kauai, Hawaii, Wednesday morning,” Wright said.
As we highlighted at the time, another SM-3 Block IIA test failed in June after a sailor on the destroyer John Paul Jones mistakenly triggered the missile’s self-destruct mechanism.