US shoots down mock warhead over Pacific

WASHINGTON (AP) --  The Pentagon says it has shot down a mock warhead over the Pacific in a success for America's missile defense program.

The test was the first of its kind in nearly three years. And it was the first test ever targeting an intercontinental-range missile like North Korea is developing.

The military says an interceptor rocket launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California slammed into the warhead as it traveled outside the Earth's atmosphere after being launched from a test range on a Pacific atoll.

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Hit or miss, the Pentagon's attempt on Tuesday to shoot down a mock warhead over the Pacific Ocean will mark an important milestone.

The goal of having a reliable defense against long-range missiles has taken on added urgency with North Korea's vow to threaten the U.S. with a nuclear-armed missile.

Even if successful, the $244 million test will not confirm the U.S. is capable of defending itself against an intercontinental-range missile fired by North Korea. The Pentagon is still incorporating engineering upgrades to a missile interceptor that has yet to be fully tested in realistic conditions.

A test failure would raise new questions about the defensive system. But it's not likely to compel the Pentagon to abandon expansion plans.

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