HONOLULU – The Japanese military destroyed a mid-range ballistic missile in space with an interceptor fired from a ship off Hawaii in a test on Monday.
The U.S. military has conducted similar successful tests in the past, but it is the first time a U.S. ally has shot down a ballistic missile from a ship at sea.
The interceptor fired by the JS Kongo knocked out the target warhead about 100 miles above the Pacific Ocean, said the U.S. Missile Defense Agency, which carried out the test together with the Japanese and U.S. navies.
Tokyo has invested heavily in missile defense since North Korea test-fired a long-range missile over northern Japan in 1998. It has installed missile tracking technology on several navy ships and has plans to equip them with interceptors.
Japan is also developing an advanced nose cone for the Standard Missile-3 interceptor used Monday.
Experts say the test target resembled the Rodong missile owned by North Korea.
This missile has a shorter range than the Taepodong missile North Korea sent over Japan a decade ago. But North Korea is believed to have an arsenal of about 200 Rodongs, and Japanese defense experts say it represents the greatest threat to Japanese security.
The Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kauai, run by the U.S. Navy, fired the target missile into the sky Monday morning Hawaii time. The Kongo tracked the missile, then fired its interceptor three minutes later, destroying the target, the Missile Defense Agency said in a news release.
The USS Lake Erie, a Pearl Harbor-based guided missile cruiser, tracked the missile target and fed information on it to a command center.
The target's payload separated from its booster rocket, requiring the Standard Missile-3 interceptor to distinguished between the two parts and seek out the warhead.
Experts say the test will likely strengthen the U.S.-Japan defense alliance. The Missile Defense Agency called the test "a major milestone in the growing cooperation between Japan and the U.S."
But it may also deepen concerns in Beijing that Tokyo could use the technology to help the U.S. defend Taiwan if conflict erupted across the straits.