* Raytheon's newest hardware plays role in European shield
* Components "performed as designed" - Pentagon
* Earlier test failed, caused Raytheon production delay
By Jim Wolf
WASHINGTON, May 10 U.S. forces said they had
destroyed a target in the first successful test of the Navy's
newest anti-missile interceptor, designed to protect allies from
attacks by countries like North Korea and Iran.
A target ballistic missile was downed near Hawaii late on
Wednesday by the latest Raytheon Co-built Standard Missile-3
interceptor, the Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency (MDA) said.
The advanced interceptor is key to the next phase of an
anti-missile shield being built by the United States in and
The United States plans to deploy increasingly capable SM-3
versions up to around 2020 to boost defenses against missiles
that could be fired by Iran and North Korea.
"Initial indications are that all components performed as
designed," the agency said in an emailed statement.
The interceptor, called the SM-3 Block 1B, had failed to
knock out its target in its maiden intercept test in September.
This led to a continuing delay in Raytheon's production.
The shield under construction in Europe involves ground- and
ship-based hardware as well as space-based sensors.
The SM-3 IB interceptor is due to be deployed on land in
Romania by 2015 in the second stage of President Barack Obama's
"phased adaptive" approach to missile defense. It will also be
used on ships equipped with Lockheed Martin Corp 's
"Aegis" anti-missile combat system.
The Aegis system, named after the mythological shield that
defended Zeus, ties together sensors, computers, displays,
weapons launchers and weapons.
A total of 27 specially equipped Aegis warships are set up
for ballistic missile defense - 23 in the U.S. Navy and four in
the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force, according to Lockheed
Martin, the Pentagon's No. 1 contractor by sales.
In the drill on Wednesday, a short-range ballistic target
missile was launched from the Pacific Missile Range Facility,
located on Kauai, Hawaii, MDA said.
The interceptor came from the USS Lake Erie, an Aegis
cruiser that tracked the target and sent flight-path information
to the SM-3 Block IB in-flight.
This set up a collision with a warhead, released by the
SM-3, that destroyed the target by the force of impact known as
"hit to kill," the MDA statement said.
Richard Lehner, an MDA spokesman, declined to say whether
the test included countermeasures such as decoys that an enemy
likely would use to try to overwhelm the defense.
"We don't divulge presence of countermeasures for any
missile defense tests," he said in an email.
Critics such as Tom Collina, research director at the
private Arms Control Association, maintain that intercept tests
cannot show whether a system would work in the real world unless
countermeasures are included.
Compared with the current SM-3 model, the new version
features an improved target seeker, an advanced signal processor
and better controls for adjusting its course.
Two more tests of the new version are scheduled to take
place this year. Missile production decisions "will be made
based upon system performance in any or all of the tests,"
Riki Ellison, a prominent missile-defense advocate with
close ties to military forces involved in the project, said the
test on Wednesday could be viewed as a scenario involving North
and South Korea. In this case, it could be a U.S. Aegis ship
from the 7th fleet deployed in the Sea of Japan that would
defend the South and the U.S. troops located there.
The latest test marked the 22nd successful intercept in 27
flight test attempts for the Aegis program, MDA said. It was the
53rd successful hit-to-kill intercept in 67 flight test attempts
since the integrated system began development in 2001, according
The latter number includes tests of components known as the
Ground-based Midcourse Defense, Terminal High Altitude Area
Defense and PATRIOT Advanced Capability-3 as well as the Aegis