WASHINGTON — A U.S. missile defense interceptor missed its target during a July 5 test of the nation’s ground-based missile shield, the Missile Defense Agency said in a release.

The test followed a two-year hiatus and marked the third consecutive unsuccessful intercept of the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system. Two similar tests in 2010 also failed to lead to an intercept.

A long-range target missile was launched from the Kwajalein Atoll in the Pacific Ocean, and a ground-based interceptor that launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., failed to destroy it, according to the release. The exercise was designed to test the Raytheon-built first-generation Capability Enhancement 1 Exoatmospheric Kill Vehicle , which is used in Alaska and California.

The agency last successfully conducted a similar test in 2008. But since then, the agency has faced two failed intercepts, one in January 2010 and one in December 2010. The July 5 test had been delayed several times.

The GMD system has recorded eight intercepts in 15 flight tests since 2001.

U.S. Navy Vice Adm. James Syring, director of the Missile Defense Agency, told the House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee in May that he planned to move up the test to May or June “to increase warfighter confidence and maintain a testing cadence.”

“We have made numerous improvements to the [Capability Enhancement 1 fleet through refurbishments since the last successful [Capability Enhancement 1] flight test in 2008, and this test will demonstrate the reliability of those refurbished [ground-based interceptors],” he said. “I am committed to flight testing the GMD system, at a minimum, once per year; however, I can assure the Committee that I will not approve the execution of a flight test unless I believe we are ready.”

Another intercept test, expected in 2014, will help determine if the technology on the Capability Enhancement 2 kill vehicle is advanced enough for the Pentagon to buy 14 more interceptors for Fort Greely, Alaska, as part of the Obama administration’s plan to bolster the nation’s missile defense shield against an attack from North Korea.

Mike Gruss is a senior staff writer for SpaceNews. He joined the publication in January 2013 to cover military space. Previously, he worked as a reporter and columnist for The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Va. and The Journal Gazette in Fort Wayne, Ind. He...