Success of US first ICBM intercept test really good news?

China Military
Zhang Tao

BEIJING, June 1 (ChinaMil) --Missile defense is a buzzword in international affairs and military field in recent years, and the US has "taken the lead" without surprise either in technical approach or number of tests.

On May 30, the US "successfully intercepted" an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) during the first test of its ground-based intercept system, adding fuel to the anti-missile flame over recent years.

According to a statement by the US Missile Defense Agency under the Department of Defense (DOD), the US military launched a simulated ICBM from the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site on Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands of the Pacific Ocean.

After analyzing and calculating the tracking data from the sea-based X-band radar and other sensors, it launched a ground-based interceptor from the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, which destroyed the simulated ICBM through direct collision.

"The intercept is an incredible accomplishment for the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system and a critical milestone for this program," said the director of the US Missile Defense Agency, Vice Adm. James D. Syring.

According to available information, the anti-missile test has the following characteristics:

First, the weapon system is a ground-based intercept system, which, along with sea-based intercept system and terminal high-altitude and low-altitude intercept system, constitutes the multi-level missile defense system and strategic defense system of the United States.

The US has spent up to $USD40 billion on this system in the past decade and more, and the effect of this huge system has to be proven through one test after another. But the missile intercept tests the US conducted in recent years are mostly sea-based tests based on the Aegis system and terminal high-altitude tests based on the THAAD system. The latest test not only verified its homeland GMD system, but also escalated the disputes around this technology.

Second, the intercept took place in the mid-course of the ballistic missile, whose flight consists of three stages - the rising course, mid-course and terminal course.

It's technically very difficult to intercept a ballistic missile in the rising course because it's within the rival's territory and there is a very narrow time window to carry out the interception. In the terminal course, the missile flies too fast with a large angle of depression, so there is little room to allocate intercept resources and it's easy to cause collateral damages.

The mid-course, however, is the key area for missile defense because the missile flies for a relatively long time with a steady trajectory in this stage, so there are several intercept windows. As a country between two oceans, the US has never stopped efforts to intercept ballistic missile through the sea-based Aegis system, and the successful test this time indicated that ground-based mid-course defense has become another insurance for the mid-course missile defense of the US military.

Third, it was the first time that an ICBM was successfully intercepted.

The US has conducted 17 ground-based mid-course intercept tests successively, only nine succeeded, and only 40% of the five tests conducted since 2010 were successful, giving a glimpse of how complicated anti-missile technology is. According to public information, this was the first test of ICBM intercept by the US military, for which it used a faster simulated missile than before, marking new improvements in its strategic anti-missile technology.

The successful first test of ICBM interception indicated progress in America's strategic defense technology, but it's not good news for maintaining the current strategic balance among major powers in the world.

The current strategic balance is largely based on the capability of Mutually Assured Destruction of the second nuclear attack, which is effective in preventing nuclear war and ensuring strategic stability.

But the enhancement of America's missile defense capability will, in theory, undermine the effectiveness efficacy of nuclear strikes launched by its main strategic rivals, thus consolidating its own domination.

It will also stimulate other countries to develop strategic penetration technology at a faster pace or enhance their own strategic defense capability, which will exert a new impact on international security.

The author is Wang Mingzhi, professor at the Air Force Command College of the Chinese People's Liberation Army(PLA).


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