US defense system test proves successful as Iran moves closer to nuclear capability

The successful demonstration of new capabilities for the long range missile defense system comes amid growing tensions between Washington and Tehran. 

By Donna Rachel Edmunds, World Israel News. 

Boeing and the U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA) successfully tested an advanced long-range missile defense system on Sunday, amid a growing nuclear threat from Iran.

The aim of the test, carried out at the Vandenberg Space Force Base, was to demonstrate an advanced interceptor capability for the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system, which is designed to protect the U.S. from long-range intercontinental ballistic missiles. It involved launching a Ground-Based Interceptor (GBI) into space using a two-stage booster process instead of the usual three stage booster.

According to a statement released by Boeing Sunday, this allowed the GBI “to release the kill vehicle earlier in flight, providing an earlier opportunity to intercept and defeat a missile threat.”

The new option gives operators a real-time choice between a two-stage or three-stage interceptor, depending on the threat’s location and speed, with the stage mode determining when the kill vehicle is released from the GBI.

“The GMD system is reliable and ready if called upon to defend the nation,” said Debbie Barnett, Boeing GMD vice president and program director, following the successful test.

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“Today was another milestone in the longstanding partnership between Space Launch Delta 30 and the Missile Defense Agency,” said Col. Robert Long, Space Launch Delta 30 commander, who was also the launch decision authority for Sunday’s test, according to Noozhawk.

“Once again, the combined team displayed their hallmark professionalism and ‘can-do’ attitude in making this a successful test,” Long added.

The timely system test comes just days ahead of a report by an expert group warning that Iran could have enough uranium for a nuclear bomb in as little as one month.

The Institute for Science and International Security, which examines reports published by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), was quoted by the New York Times as saying that by succeeding in enriching uranium to 60% purity, Iran is now capable of closing the gap to making the material for a single weapon “in as short as one month.”

Two bombs’ worth of fuel could be ready in less than three months, with a third following just two months after that, according to the report. American officials disputed that short a time-frame, but admitted that it may be only a few months off.

Israel’s Defense Minister Benny Gantz warned foreign diplomats three weeks ago that Iran was just two months away from developing the materials required for nuclear capability.

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Batya Jerenberg contributed to this report.