VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. - A test of the nation's long-range missile defense system was aborted Friday when a target rocket launched from Alaska failed and its dummy warhead fell into the Pacific Ocean before an interceptor missile could be launched from California, officials said.
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It was not immediately known why the target, an old intercontinental ballistic missile, failed after launch from Kodiak Island.
"The target did not reach sufficient altitude to be deemed a threat, and so the Ballistic Missile Defense System did not engage it, as designed," Air Force Lt. Gen. Henry Obering III, director of the Missile Defense Agency, said in a statement.
The target launched about 6:15 a.m. Alaska Daylight Time and the interceptor was eight to 10 minutes from liftoff from Vandenberg when its flight was canceled. The interceptor was supposed to try to collide with the target high over the Pacific.
Obering said the test will be attempted again this summer by using a target missile that had been scheduled for use in a test next fall.
It was the first failure of a target in the test program. Obering said that a program of modernizing targets has begun to reduce the risks involved in using old ICBMs.
The national missile defense system currently includes interceptors based at Fort Greeley, Alaska, and at Vandenberg, about 130 miles northwest of Los Angeles.
Tests of the system have implications for a plan to expand the program to sites in the Czech Republic and Poland. The plan has raised ire in Moscow, which contends it encroaches too closely.
The U.S. is beginning negotiations with Poland to host 10 interceptors.