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Hitting a Bullet with a Bullet: MDA and Navy Shoot Down ICBM in Test

November 19, 2020

Episode Notes:

An intercontinental ballistic missile was launched on the west coast of the United States this weekend from a small Pacific island nation. The launch was not an attack, but part of a test conducted by the Missile Defense Agency, in which a Navy destroyer, USS John Finn (DDG 113), successfully shot down the ICBM launched from a U.S. Army facility on Kwajalein atoll in the Marshall Islands using an SM-3 Blk IIA missile. This marked the first time that an ICBM has been successfully engaged by the ship-based AEGIS system, and the first ICBM intercept for the SM-3 Blk IIA missile.


To help us better understand the significance, we are joined by Ankit Panda, a writer, analyst, and researcher specializing in international security, defense, geopolitics, and economics. He is the Stanton Senior Fellow in the Nuclear Policy Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.


[ 01:35 ]The Navy has successfully intercepted ballistic missile targets before using the SM-3 Block IIA, but not an ICBM.  Help us understand how this test is different?


[ 03:20 ] The SM-3 Block IIA used a kinetic warhead to maneuver and intercept the ICBM. Can you help us understand what that means and why it is so difficult?


[ 05:29 ] Some previous ballistic missile defense tests have been criticized for setting up unrealistically easy scenarios. This test involved the integration of satellite systems, an operations center at Schriever AFB, and the Navy destroyer at sea. Was this a realistic test of the missile defense architecture?


[ 08:07 ] Was this test linked to any specific threat or development in world events?


[ 10:25 ] One criticism of U.S. missile defense programs has been that nations, such as China, that possess a relatively small nuclear deterrent may perceive these this capability as de-stabilizing, since it threatens to neutralize their ability to launch a second strike.  How does a test like this impact these concerns?

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