The U.S. Missile Defense Agency, working in conjunction with the Ballistic Missile Defense System Operational Test Agency, and U.S. Army soldiers of the 11th Air Defense Artillery Brigade from Fort Bliss, Texas, conducted a test of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system in the skies above Alaska on Tuesday.  The test, according to an MDA news release, was a success.

According to a statement provided to the press, the ballistic missile target was air-launched from a U.S. Air Force C-17 over the Pacific Ocean somewhere North of Hawaii.  A THAAD emplacement located in the Pacific Spaceport Complex Alaska (PSCA) in Kodiak detected and tracked the intermediate-range ballistic missile target before firing an interceptor that closed with, and destroyed it.

I couldn’t be more proud of the government and contractor team who executed this flight test today,” said MDA Director Lt. Gen. Sam Greaves. “This test further demonstrates the capabilities of the THAAD weapon system and its ability to intercept and destroy ballistic missile threats. THAAD continues to protect our citizens, deployed forces and allies from a real and growing threat.”

While soldiers with the 11th Air Defense Artillery Brigade were aware of the test, they were not notified of the time it would commence in order to provide a more realistic sense of how intercept operations would have to be conducted during a real attack.  The soldiers then conducted launcher, fire control, and radar operations using the same procedures they would in an actual combat scenario.

This latest successful test continues the THAAD system’s 100% success rate in 14 intercepts against mock ballistic missiles.  By design, the THAAD is a purely defensive piece of equipment, as its interceptors launch like missiles, but rely on the transfer of kinetic energy (effectively the impact) of the interceptor against an aggressor’s missile to destroy it.

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 around the globe and contributes to the broader strategic deterrence architecture.” The MDA statement reads.

The THAAD system currently deployed in South Korea has prompted concern within the nation as well as criticism from regional neighbors like China.  In order to identify and track incoming missiles, the THAAD system employs an extremely powerful radar array – an array the Chinese believe can be used to spy on equipment placements within their borders.  South Korean President Moon Jai-in has ordered a halt to any further THAAD deployments pending an environmental study, though it is widely believed this decision was brought about by financial pressures levied by China.

North Korea recently tested their first long-range ballistic missile believed to be capable of reaching U.S. assets as far away as Alaska, prompting a surge in concerns about what Kim Jong-un will do once he has a true ICBM and nuclear warhead at his disposal.  Despite North Korea’s claims, there is still much debate within the intelligence community as to whether Kim’s regime has actually mastered the process of miniaturizing a nuclear warhead sufficiently to fit in a missile.