The test was the first of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system against an incoming IRBM, which experts say is a faster and more difficult target to hit than shorter-range missiles.
“The successful demonstration of THAAD against an IRBM-range missile threat bolsters the country’s defensive capability against developing missile threats in North Korea and other countries,” the Missile Defense Agency said in a statement.
A defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the test took place early on Tuesday.
This success leaves THAAD with a 100 percent track record for all 14 intercept attempts since flight testing began just over a decade ago.
Lockheed Martin Corp , the prime contractor for the THAAD system, said it could intercept incoming missiles both inside and outside the Earth’s atmosphere.
Earlier this month Moscow and Beijing, in a joint statement, called on Washington to immediately halt deployment of THAAD in South Korea.
The Pentagon has upgraded its assessment of the United States’ ability to defend against a small number of ICBMs, according to an internal memo seen by Reuters.
A ground-based missile defense system, THAAD is designed to shoot down short-, medium- and intermediate-range ballistic missiles.
John Schilling, a contributor to 38 North, a Washington-based North Korea monitoring project, downplayed the idea that THAAD might be seen as a backup.
“To engage an ICBM with THAAD would be like asking a high school baseball player to hit a fastball from a major-league pitcher – literally out of his league,” Schilling said.
The Missile Defense Agency told Congress in June that it planned to deliver 52 more THAAD interceptors to the U.S. Army between October 2017 and September 2018, bringing total deliveries to 210 since May 2011.
author: Diana Milligan