The long-range ground-based interceptor is launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base on Tuesday. Courtesy Missile Defense Agency

In a launch visible in Southern California, the Air Force shot down an incoming missile with a ground-based interceptor Tuesday in a drill designed to prepare for a North Korean nuclear strike.

The missile was launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in eastern Santa Barbara County around 1 p.m., and officials with the Missile Defense Agency said the test was a success, with the missile intercepting a simulated warhead fired from the Marshall Islands.

“The intercept of a complex, threat-representative ICBM target is an incredible accomplishment for the GMD (Ground-based Midcourse Defense) system and a critical milestone for this program,” said MDA director Vice Adm. Jim Syring. “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.”

The test was planned in response to what are regarded as provocations by North Korea, which, as of last week, has  carried out three missile tests in three weeks.

The most recent North Korean test involved a short-range ballistic missile that traveled about 250 miles before splashing down in Japan’s “exclusive economic zone” near the coast.

The American interceptor has an uneven track record, having succeeded nine times out of 17 attempts against missiles in tests since 1999, although the most recent test — in June 2014 — was a success.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has vowed to deploy a nuclear-armed missile capable of reaching American territory. The North Koreans have not yet tested an intercontinental ballistic missile but are believed to be planning to.

— City News Service

Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.