Missile defense system makes history
A Pearl Harbor ship intercepts a test missile at the end of the target's flight, a first
The Pearl Harbor-based Aegis cruiser USS Lake Erie successfully intercepted a target test missile in the last few seconds of its flight for the first time yesterday.
In previous tests the Lake Erie successfully intercepted target missiles as soon as they were launched from the Pacific Missile Range Facility at Barking Sands on Kauai or in the middle of their flights, the Navy said.
Target missiles had been intercepted in their final stage only by ground-based interceptors before yesterday.
The interceptor is part of the Missile Defense Agency's multibillion-dollar program to protect the United States and its allies from an enemy missile attack.
In yesterday's intercept the Navy, in cooperation with the Missile Defense Agency, used a modified Standard Missile 2 to destroy the target missile.
The Navy has said the crew of Lake Erie was successful in six of seven earlier attempts, using a Standard Missile 3, the Navy said.
The SM-3 is based on the SM-2 missile using the same booster, dual-thrust motor, steering control section and midcourse missile guidance but has a new third stage for more thrust.
Rear Adm. Barry McCullough, director of Surface Warfare on the staff of the Chief of Naval Operations, said in a news release that yesterday's test was an "important step" toward the Navy's goal of shooting down missiles as they approach their targets.
The U.S. military is installing missile-tracking radar and interceptor missiles on 18 U.S. Pacific Fleet ships. It is also equipping underground silos in Alaska and California with interceptor missiles.
The Lake Erie is equipped with technology that allows it to detect and track intercontinental ballistic missiles. Since 2004, U.S. warships with ICBM tracking technology have been patrolling the Sea of Japan, on the lookout for missiles from North Korea.
North Korea shocked Tokyo and other nations when it test-fired a ballistic missile over northern Japan in 1998. Analysts say North Korea is developing long-range missiles capable of reaching Alaska, Hawaii or perhaps America's West Coast.
Japan has joined the U.S. missile defense program and is spending millions of dollars to develop a special nose cone for the SM-3 missile.
In March the Missile Defense Agency said the clamshell nose cone successfully separated from the U.S.-designed SM-3 during another test off Kauai. That trial marked the first U.S. missile defense flight test using Japanese parts.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.