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US plans to test THAAD missile defences as North Korea tensions mount

The test will be the first of the THAAD system to defend against a simulated attack by an intermediate-range ballistic missile.

world Updated: Jul 08, 2017 15:07 IST
File photo of the launch of a Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) interceptor.
File photo of the launch of a Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) interceptor.(Reuters)

The United States plans to carry out a new test of its THAAD missile defence system against an intermediate-range ballistic missile in the coming days, two US officials told Reuters on Friday, as tensions with North Korea climb.

Despite being planned months ago, the US missile defence test will gain significance in the wake of North Korea’s launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) on July 4 that has heightened concerns about the threat from Pyongyang.

The test will be the first of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) to defend against a simulated attack by an intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM), one of the officials said. The THAAD interceptors will be fired from Alaska.

The United States has THAAD interceptors in Guam that are meant to help guard against a missile attack from a country such as North Korea.

The officials who disclosed to Reuters the precise nature and timing of the upcoming test spoke on condition of anonymity.

Asked by Reuters, the US missile defence agency (MDA) confirmed that it aimed to carry out a THAAD flight test “in early July.”

Chris Johnson, an MDA spokesman, said the THAAD weapon system at the Pacific Spaceport Complex Alaska in Kodiak, Alaska, would “detect, track and engage a target with a THAAD interceptor”.

“The test is designated as Flight Test THAAD (FTT)-18,” Johnson said.

In a recent testimony to Congress, Vice Admiral James Syring, then the director of the MDA, said FTT-18 would aim to demonstrate THAAD’s ability to intercept a separating IRBM target. MDA said THAAD had a 100% successful track record in its 13 flight tests since 2006. After previous tests, the US military has publicly disclosed the results.

This year’s US deployment of THAAD in South Korea to guard against North Korea’s shorter-range missiles has also drawn fierce criticism from China, which says the system’s powerful radar can probe deep into its territory.

Earlier this month Moscow and Beijing, in a joint statement, called on Washington to immediately halt deployment of THAAD in South Korea.

The statement said Washington was using North Korea as a pretext to expand its military infrastructure in Asia and risked upsetting the strategic balance of power in the region.