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The United States successfully shot down a mock warhead Tuesday as part of a historic test from Vandenberg Air Force Base, according to the Pentagon and the country’s Missile Defense Agency (MDA).

In the $244 million exercise, which began shortly after noon, an intercontinental ballistic missile, or ICBM, was intercepted and destroyed over the Pacific Ocean as part of a test of the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) element of the nation's ballistic missile defense system.

This was the first live-fire test event against an ICBM-class target for GMD and the U.S. ballistic missile defense system, according to an MDA spokesperson. 

Vice Adm. James D. Syring, the director of the MDA, called the intercept “an incredible accomplishment” and a "critical milestone."

“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," Syring said. "I am incredibly proud of the warfighters who executed this test and who operate this system every day."

The test was believed to be an important milestone for the country’s defense program, which could be what stands between an incoming North Korean strike and the U.S., as tensions between the two countries are reportedly rising.

On Monday, a North Korea test missile reportedly flew about 280 miles before landing in the Sea of Japan — the 12th missile believed to have been launched this year by the Pyongyang government. A Japanese government official told reporters, according to the Associated Press, that the launch was “extremely problematic in terms of safety of aircraft and ships.”

For Tuesday's U.S. test, an ICBM-class target was launched from the Reagan Test Site on the Kwajalein Atoll in the Republic of the Marshall Islands. Multiple sensors provided target acquisition and tracking data to the Command, Control, Battle Management and Communication system, according to the MDA.

The Sea-Based X-Band Radar, positioned in the Pacific Ocean, also acquired and tracked the target. The GMD system received the target tracking data and developed a fire control solution to intercept the target.

A ground-based interceptor was then launched from a silo on VAFB, and its exo-atmospheric kill vehicle intercepted and destroyed the target in a direct collision, the U.S. reports. The interceptor and its contrail were visible throughout the Central Coast as it headed over the ocean.

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

The test was staged by the MDA, the Air Force’s 30th Space Wing, the Joint Functional Component Command for Integrated Missile Defense and U.S. Northern Command.

The test, designated Flight Test Ground-Based Interceptor (FTG)-15, is expected to provide the data necessary to assess the performance of the GMD system, which will then likely lead to enhanced homeland defense capabilities.

The GMD element of the ballistic missile defense system provides combatant commanders the capability to engage and destroy intermediate and long-range ballistic missile threats to protect the U.S., according to the MDA.

The mission of the MDA is to develop and deploy a layered ballistic missile defense system to defend the U.S., its deployed forces, and allies from limited ballistic missile attacks of all ranges in all phases of flight.

Willis Jacobson covers the city of Lompoc for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter @WJacobsonLR.