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Navy registers another direct hit in missile test


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POSTED: Friday, July 31, 2009

The Navy scored another missile hit off the northern coast of Kauai.

The latest successful missile interception comes on the heels of continuing tensions with North Korea over its missile program.

In yesterday's test in waters near Kauai's Barking Sands, the Pearl Harbor-based destroyer USS Hopper used its Aegis system to track a short-range dummy missile fired from the Pacific Missile Range Facility before shooting it down with a three-stage interceptor Standard Missile 3.

At 5:42 p.m. the crew of USS Hopper fired one SM-3 Block IA missile, hitting the target about two minutes later about 100 miles above the Pacific Ocean.

Two other Pearl Harbor warships, cruiser USS Lake Erie and destroyer USS O'Kane, tracked the target missile with radar but did not fire their missiles. The Lake Erie is equipped with an upgraded Aegis weapons system and will try a missile intercept next spring.

It was the 19th successful intercept in 23 at-sea firings for the Aegis ballistic missile program, including the February 2008 destruction of a malfunctioning satellite above Earth's atmosphere.

The $40 million test came a month after a Japanese newspaper reported that North Korea was planning to test-launch a long-range ballistic missile in the direction of Hawaii, prompting the Pentagon to deploy mobile missile launchers to Kauai.

There are now 18 Navy warships - three cruisers and 15 destroyers - equipped with the Aegis ballistic missile defense system. Sixteen of those ships are in the Pacific, and two are in the Atlantic.

This is the second time the Hopper has been involved in a ballistic missile test. In November it was one of two Pearl Harbor destroyers that attempted to knock down a target missile. The USS Hamilton scored a hit; the Hopper failed its attempt.

The intercept was one of the last under Rear Adm. Alan B. Hicks, the program director for Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense, the sea-based element of the Ballistic Missile Defense System.

He will be replaced by Rear Adm. Joseph Horn, the current deputy for the Missile Defense Agency, who commanded the Lake Erie in 2006 and was involved in several successful intercepts.

Hicks, who has been leading the sea-based Aegis program since November 2005, said results of yesterday's test will support the next test with a foreign country this fall. He declined to identify the country.