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Chandler company plays big part in US missile defense shield program

An rocket designed to intercept an intercontinental ballistic missiles is launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in Calif. on Tuesday, May 30, 2017. 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. (Matt Hartman via AP)

PHOENIX —  A Chandler company played a big part in Tuesday’s test of a system designed to protect the United States from missiles launched from overseas.

“This was one of the biggest tests this company has had in a very long time and to have it be a 100 percent success was really very rewarding for a large number of our workforce,” Orbital ATK Vice President Terry Feehan said.

Some of the major components of the test came from the company’s launch vehicle division located near Price and Dobson roads.

“We provided both the target for the test and also booster segment of the interceptor,” Feehan said.

By the end of the year, the U.S. is expected to deploy 44 interceptors around the country, up from 36. Orbital ATK will provide components for all of them.

According to the test plan, a 5-foot-long “kill vehicle” released from atop the interceptor zeroed in on the ICBM-like target’s mock warhead outside Earth’s atmosphere and obliterated it by sheer force of impact, the Pentagon said. The “kill vehicle” carries no explosives, either in testing or in actual combat.

Tuesday’s test was seen as a win by defense officials. The interceptor scored a direct hit and appeared to result in the “complete obliteration” of a mock warhead over the Pacific Ocean.

The mock device was designed to simulate a missile fired from either North Korea or Iran.

Despite the success, the $244 million test didn’t confirm that under wartime conditions the U.S. could intercept an intercontinental-range missile fired by North Korea.

The North is understood to be moving closer to the capability of putting a nuclear warhead on such an ICBM and could develop decoys sophisticated enough to trick an interceptor into missing the real warhead.

Philip E. Coyle, a former head of the Pentagon’s test and evaluation office and a senior fellow at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, said the outcome was a significant success for a test that was three years in preparation. Still, he noted it was only the second success in the last five intercept attempts since 2010.

“In several ways, this test was a $244 million-dollar baby step, a baby step that took three years,” Coyle said.

KTAR’s Martha Maurer and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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