WASHINGTON, Sept 19 (Reuters) - The U.S. military on Wednesday conducted the second test of the ship-based Aegis missile defense system in a week, firing two SM-3 missiles to intercept a single, complex separating target in space, the U.S. Defense Department said.
The test, carried out by the Missile Defense Agency, U.S. Pacific Command and U.S. Navy sailors aboard guided missile cruiser USS Lake Erie, took place off the coast of Hawaii on Wednesday afternoon, according to the Pentagon statement.
“This was an operationally realistic test, in which the target’s launch time and bearing are not known in advance, and the target complex was the most difficult target engaged to date,” the statement said.
Lockheed Martin Corp, which builds the Aegis combat system, and Raytheon Co, maker of the Standard Missile-3 missiles, said the test results demonstrated the growing capability of a system used by the United States and Japan to defend against short- to intermediate-range ballistic missiles.
Wednesday’s test followed a different test conducted on Sept. 10 in which an SM-3 missile fired by the Aegis combat system and Lockheed’s Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile defense system intercepted two medium-range ballistic missiles fired nearly simultaneously.
In the latest test, a complex separating short-range ballistic missile target was launched from the Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kauai, Hawaii. The Navy ship detected and tracked the target using its onboard AN/SPY-1 radar, and then launched two SM-3 Block IB guided missiles to intercept it.
The Pentagon said the first SM-3 that was launched successfully intercepted the target warhead. Raytheon said the second SM-3 was launched to test the system’s ability to launch multiple missiles at one time against a threat. It was not intended to intercept the target, the company said.
It was the first time two SM-3 missiles have been shot off a U.S. Navy ship at one time, according to Raytheon spokeswoman Heather Uberuaga.
She said last week’s test used the SM-3 Block IA missile that is currently deployed, while Wednesday’s test used the company’s next-generation SM-3 Block IB missile.
The Pentagon said the test was aimed at exercising the latest version of the second-generation Aegis weapons system, which is built to engage longer range and more sophisticated ballistic missiles.