The test simulated the capability for responding to a hypothetical North Korean ballistic missile, Pentagon officials say.
The US military has carried out the first test of a missile defence system against an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).
Officials said the test of the Ground Based Midcourse Defence (GMD) system at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California was successful.
Pentagon officials said the test was to simulate the capability for responding to a hypothetical North Korean ICBM.
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Vice Admiral Jim Syring, director of the Pentagon agency in charge of developing the missile defence system, said it was “an incredible accomplishment”.
“This system is vitally important to the defence of our homeland, and this test demonstrates that we have a capable, credible deterrent against a very real threat,” he said.
The ICBM was launched from Kwajalein Atoll in the Pacific and was equipped with a warhead which would approximate the qualities of a nuclear warhead.
A THAAD missile interceptor missile is tested. File pic
The missile defence system is similar to the THAAD deployed in South Korea. File pic
The GMD interceptors carry no warheads themselves but rely on the kinetic energy of their impact to destroy the incoming missile.
Kinetic energy hits are intended to minimise the risk of detonating conventional warheads, including nuclear tipped ballistic missiles.
It is a similar missile defence system to the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) system, which was recently deployed in South Korea.
North Korea’s ballistic missile tests have created tensions between Pyongyang and Washington, with Kim Jong Un featuring commonly in discussions between President Donald Trump and Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping.
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The California test came as the US ambassador to the UN said the Trump administration believed Beijing was using back channels with North Korea in an attempt to get it to stop missile and nuclear tests.
Despite UN and unilateral sanctions, North Korea has continued with its missile tests. It has argued the sanctions are an infringement of its right to self-defence.
Its most recent test of a medium-range Scud missile was claimed as a success, although North Korea’s ability to launch a ballistic missile capable of hitting intercontinental targets has been disputed.
The state has stressed that it will continue to develop a pre-emptive strike capability.