Could the US stop a nuclear missile attack?

by Rachel Becker  Jun 1, 2017

If a nuclear-tipped missile were hurtling toward the United States, would we be able to stop it? Maybe, if we were very lucky. But some experts warn that the United States’ missile defense system isn’t as reliable as people might think.  

Right now, a constellation of sensors and 36 interceptor missiles make up the ground-based midcourse defense system, or GMD. It’s intended to act as insurance against a small-scale nuclear attack from North Korea, or possibly Iran, according to the Department of Defense. (Neither country has missiles capable of reaching the US, although US officials say North Korea is getting closer.) It’s not meant to ward off an unlikely attack from the much larger and more sophisticated arsenals of Russia or China — nor would it be able to.  

Still, it’s the only defense we have against an intercontinental ballistic missile or ICBM once it’s in the air. On May 30th, 2017, the US tested these defenses against an ICBM-like target for the first time.


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