Despite Test Failure, Pentagon Remains Confident About Missile Defense

Defense spokesman says the U.S. could respond to any threat from North Korea.

Defense Department spokesman George Little on Monday voiced continued confidence in U.S. missile defenses against any possible attack from East Asia, even though a long-range missile interceptor failed late last week in yet another flight test, ABC News reported.

"We believe that we have a robust missile defense architecture in place and we are in a position to respond to any threat that emanates from North Korea," the spokesman said. "Our faith in our missile defense programs remains strong and every healthy organization takes stock of mishaps when they occur and that's what we're doing now."

It is not yet publicly known why the Ground-based Interceptor failed to eliminate the dummy ballistic missile target against which it was launched over the Pacific Ocean. The Defense Department has said it would conduct a thorough review to learn what went wrong.

Thirty GBI missiles fielded at bases in Alaska and California use the targeting system that failed in the test. They are part of the country's Ground-based Midcourse Defense system, which is the principal defense against ballistic missile strikes by North Korea and Iran.

The Pentagon in March announced it would acquire an additional 14 GBI missiles for fielding by 2017 in Alaska as a countermeasure to the growing missile threat posed by Pyongyang. A number of Republicans on Capitol Hill are also clamoring for the speedy establishment of an interceptor site somewhere on the U.S. East Coast that presumably would be equipped with more GBI missiles. 

The growing role that the GBI system plays in U.S. homeland missile defense made Friday's test all the more important, even though the Defense Department had suggested beforehand that it would proceed with acquisition of the 14 additional interceptors regardless of the outcome of the intercept attempt.

There has not been a successful GBI test intercept since 2008. The three most recent efforts all failed.

"The technology is still being perfected, and the level of reliability is not up to necessary standards," senior technical analyst Charles Vick said.

Little cautioned against reaching "any broad conclusions" about the most recent testing failure. "I understand the concerns here," he said. "We're concerned, too."

The probable outcome of the testing failure will be that more than one GBI missile will have to be launched against each single warhead threat to ensure elimination, according to Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance founder Riki Ellison.

"We must have the fortitude to fix the issues that caused the failures quickly, soundly and as soon as possible, he said. "This system is all our nation has today to stop and intercept long-range nuclear missiles. We have to have it."