WASHINGTON — The final ground-based interceptor for the Ground-based Midcourse Defense system — designed to protect the homeland from intercontinental ballistic missiles threats from North Korea and Iran — is now in place at Fort Greely, Alaska, the U.S. Missile Defense Agency has confirmed.

“MDA and Boeing emplaced the 44th interceptor in its silo at the Missile Defense Complex at Ft. Greely on Thursday, Nov. 2,” the agency said in a statement sent to Defense News.

The agency planned to have all 44 required interceptors in the ground and ready to respond to threats by the end of 2017.

It’s been a monumental year for the GMD system as it went up against an ICBM-class target for the first time in a May test, completely obliterating the threat. Previous tests had featured intermediate-range ballistic missile targets that approached ICBM speeds.

[Missile takedown: Historic ICBM intercept test sends strong message to North Korea]

The much-anticipated test follows a series of successes and failures. Trouble with the interceptor’s exo-atmospheric kill vehicle, designed to destroy targets in high-speed collisions after separating from a booster rocket, plagued the program.

The test and the installation of all 44 ground-based interceptors could not come at a more important time, as North Korea continues to increase its testing both in frequency and capability and the country’s rhetoric against the United States grows more bellicose.

The Pentagon and the MDA have indicated in recent months a serious move to build up beyond 44 interceptors. In September, the Pentagon proposed reprogramming $136 million in fiscal 2017 to start raising the number of ground-based interceptors from 44 to 64 in a new Missile Field 4 at Fort Greely. The boost was part of a $416 million reprogramming request targeting missile defense needs.

[Pentagon asks Congress to move $416M for missile defense]

And the White House submitted a supplemental budget request for FY18 on Nov. 6 that asked for further funding to increase the number of ground-based interceptors by 20 and to build an additional missile field at the Alaska base.

Jen Judson is an award-winning journalist covering land warfare for Defense News. She has also worked for Politico and Inside Defense. She holds a Master of Science degree in journalism from Boston University and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Kenyon College.

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