America recently marked the 40th anniversary of the debut of the blockbuster movie, Star Wars.

In 1983, in homage to the movie’s popularity, Ronald Reagan’s “Strategic Defense Initiative” was rechristened “Star Wars“. While the original goal of the program was to build a network of ground-based and space-based systems to shield the country from a massive intercontinental ballistic missile attack, Reagan’s successors have scaled back on his original plans substantially.

Since President Donald Trump took office, North Korea has launched 9 separate test ballistic missiles, with the goal of developing one that could reach the United States with a nuclear payload.

In response, the Pentagon launched a successful test of its own…of an interceptor missile. While the test had been planned for years, the timing could not have been better.

…The ground-based interceptor launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California shortly after 3:30 p.m. ET. A little more than one hour later, the Pentagon confirmed that it had successfully collided with an ICBM-class target over the Pacific Ocean.

The ICBM-target was launched from the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site on Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands, 4,200 miles away.

“The intercept of a complex, threat-representative ICBM target is an incredible accomplishment for the GMD [Ground-based Missile Defense] system and a critical milestone for this program,” said Missile Defense Agency Director Vice Adm. Jim Syring. “This system is vitally important to the defense of our homeland, and this test demonstrates that we have a capable, credible deterrent against a very real threat. I am incredibly proud of the warfighters who executed this test and who operate this system every day.”

This is a good omen for a military that is hoping for additional support from a substantially friendlier White House than its experienced in the last 8 years. However, there are limitations with the system and its technology.

The $244 million test will not confirm that the U.S. is capable of defending itself against an intercontinental-range missile fired by North Korea. Pyongyang also is understood to be moving closer to the capability of putting a nuclear warhead on such a missile and could have developed decoys sophisticated enough to trick an interceptor into missing the real warhead.

Syring’s agency sounded a note of caution.

“Initial indications are that the test met its primary objective, but program officials will continue to evaluate system performance based upon telemetry and other data obtained during the test,” his statement said.

About half of the previous tests of the Ground-based Midcourse Defense system have failed, attracting criticism from the Government Accountability Office and the Pentagon’s own weapons testing office, which says the system has “a limited capability” to defend the U.S. against an ICBM attack.

Faced with the prospect of an enemy state obtaining long-range weapons, the Pentagon rapidly deployed the interceptor system in 2004, long before development and testing were complete.

The intercept marked the first live-fire test against an ICBM-class target for the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) missile, which is being developed by Boeing Co..

This was a good day for homeland defense and a bad day for Kim Jong-un,” said Thomas Karako, a senior fellow for the Missile Defense Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a think tank in Washington, D.C., referring to the North Korean dictator.

…The test was also the first for the new CE-II Block 1 kill vehicle, which uses newly-designed divert thrusters to correct previous problems with the guidance of the kill vehicle, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists, a nonprofit in Washington, D.C. that opposes nuclear arms proliferation. Divert thrusters are the small motors that make course adjustments when the kill vehicle is homing on its target and can make the difference between a hit and a miss, it said.

The best social media reaction to the news:

I would like to think that President Reagan is toasting this achievement in heaven, though I suspect he might be a little surprised that our concerns are focused on North Korea.


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