WASHINGTON – The U.S. military successfully conducted its most challenging test yet of its ballistic missile defense system, blasting an incoming target out of the skies over the Pacific Ocean.
In the test, an intermediate-range missile target was launched from the Kwajalein Atoll in the Republic of the Marshall Islands, approximately 2,300 miles southwest of Hawaii. A ground-based radar detected the launch and relayed that information to a central system, which passed the data to the Aegis destroyer USS O'Kane.
That ship launched an SM-3 Block IA missile 11 minutes later to shoot down the incoming threat -- a process the military calls "birth to death" tracking.
"Initial indications are that all components performed as designed," the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) said in a statement, which described it as "the most challenging test to date" of the Aegis BMD system.
The test was conducted by the MDA, using Lockheed Martin's shipboard Aegis combat system and a Raytheon missile interceptor, with U.S. Navy sailors aboard the USS O'Kane and soldiers from the 94th Army Air and Missile Defense Command operating from the Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii.
It was a crucial test for the program: The last two intercept tests of a separate U.S. ground-based missile defense, aimed at protecting U.S. soil, have failed, Reuters reported.
The "successful test demonstrated the capability of the first phase" of the European missile shield announced by President Barack Obama in September 2009, the MDA statement said.
"The two demonstration Space Tracking and Surveillance Satellites (STSS), launched by MDA in 2009, successfully acquired the target missile, providing stereo 'birth to death' tracking of the target," the statement said.
"The Lockheed Martin-led team has evolved Aegis from an anti-ship missile system to the basis for the U.S. approach to global missile defense," said Lisa Callahan, vice president of maritime ballistic missile defense programs for Lockheed Martin, in a statement about the test. "With this test, Aegis BMD proves that it can expand the battlespace and destroy ballistic missile threats earlier in their trajectory than ever before."
Newscore contributed to this report.