Vandenberg Air Force Base officials reported that the kill-vehicle launched Sunday from the Lompoc base successfully struck a long-range ballistic missile launched from the Marshall Islands in the South Pacific as part of an ongoing missile defense program that’s generated significant controversy over the high cost and high number of failures. It was the first successful launch for Raytheon’s most recent kill-vehicle design and the first successful launch after three successive misses.
The missile defense program was established to prevent other nations, such as North Korea, from launching missile strikes on the United States by shooting incoming attacks out of the sky. Given that the kill-vehicle travels at approximating four miles a second, this approach has proved extremely challenging.
Base commanders and Raytheon officials expressed relief and pride that Sunday’s test succeeded, noting that the kill-vehicle’s ability to differentiate the target from decoys has improved. Of the past 16 tests, only eight have succeeded, each at a cost of $200 million. The program was started by the George W. Bush White House; today, the Obama administration is hoping to expand the number of launch vehicles equipped to take a kill-vehicle to space from 30 to 44.