Kauai missile test aborted
An interceptor fails to launch, ending the Navy targeting of two simultaneous threats
The Navy's ballistic missile defense test off the coast of Kauai failed yesterday after a system glitch kept the interceptor rocket from firing.
According to the Missile Defense Agency, missiles from the Pearl-Harbor based cruiser Lake Erie were supposed to shoot down two targets -- one launched from the Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kauai and one from an aircraft.
While the target missiles were launched, a problem with the fire control system caused by an improper configuration of the system aboard the Erie kept the first interceptor missile from being launched, the missile agency said. Since the objective was to destroy both missiles nearly simultaneously, the ship intentionally did not fire the second missile, the agency said.
The drill was planned to demonstrate the Navy's ability to knock down two incoming missiles at once from the same ship.
"In a real-world situation, it is possible, maybe even probable, that in addition to engaging a ballistic missile threat that was launched, you may be engaging a surface action," said Joe Rappisi before the test. He is director for the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense system at Lockheed Martin, the primary contractor for the program.
It's the second time in nine tries that the cruiser has failed to intercept the missiles, and it was the first test to try to intercept two targets in the air at the same time.
Despite the failure, the agency said there was good news: The three ships involved in the exercise, the Lake Erie, the USS Hopper, and the Royal Netherlands Navy frigate TROMP, all tracked the two targets.
Both target missiles dropped harmlessly into the ocean. The first one that would have been blown up in the test was lost, while the second was being recovered for future tests as intended, the agency said.
The U.S. Pacific Fleet has been gradually installing missile surveillance and tracking technology on many of its destroyers and cruisers amid concerns about North Korea's long-range missile program.
It is also installing interceptor missiles on many of its ships, even as the technology to track and shoot down incoming missiles is being developed and perfected.
The Royal Netherlands Navy joined the tracking and monitoring off Kauai to see how its equipment works. The Dutch presence marked the first time a European ally has sent one of its vessels to participate in a U.S. ballistic missile defense test.
While the Navy and the missile defense agency said they would decide on a new test after reviewing the results, the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance announced in a press release that the test, which they said "was deferred" due to "operational factors," would be repeated in the spring.
Star-Bulletin reporter Tom Finnegan and the Associated Press contributed to this report.