WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. military said it shot down an incoming SCUD-like missile in its last seconds of flight Thursday in a successful test off Hawaii, a step the contractors said reflected their hardware’s versatility.
The $40 million test involved Lockheed Martin Corp’s ship-based Aegis weapon system and interceptor missiles built by Raytheon Co, said Rear Admiral Brad Hicks, who heads U.S. sea-based missile defense efforts.
The event marked the 14th “overall successful intercept” in 16 tries for the Aegis ballistic missile shield, the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency said.
It also marked the second successful intercept of a missile in its final seconds, the so-called terminal phase, by a modified Raytheon Standard Missile - 2 Block IV interceptor, the agency said.
The interceptor can defend ships at sea as well as near shore populations, ports and small areas from short range Scud-like ballistic missiles, said Riki Ellison, president of the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance, which is funded by contractors among others.
“This near term capability offers utility, mobility and presence with the U.S. Navy especially in the areas of the Far East and the Persian Gulf where so many exposed cities and populations are vulnerable to short range ballistic missile threats,” he said in a statement.
Hicks, in a teleconference, said the short-range target was downed about 12 miles above the Pacific, roughly five minutes after it was launched from a mobile platform about 300 miles west of a missile range at Barking Sands, Kauai.
The interceptors were fired from the guided missile cruiser USS Lake Erie.
Unlike other U.S. missile-defense technologies now deployed or in development, the SM-2 Block IV interceptor does not have to collide with the target to destroy it. Rather, it may use a blast fragmentation device that explodes near the target to knock it out.
Lockheed Martin said its Aegis weapon system, upgraded for missile defense, was proving its full range of flexibility. In addition to the United States, Japan, South Korea, Norway, Spain and Australia deploy Aegis, although only Japan and the United States have started to modify Aegis-equipped ships for missile shield duties.
Japan bought the capability for its Kongo-class Aegis destroyers, and completed its first successful ballistic missile intercept test in December.
Kenneth Ross, a Lockheed Martin spokesman, said South Korea might follow suit. He said Seoul has “expressed its intent to build an independent theater missile defense system that would likely include its Aegis-equipped Sejong the Great destroyers, now under construction.”
Raytheon said the intercept was a major step toward deploying a viable sea-based capability to stop threat ballistic missiles in the final moments before they strike.
Raytheon also produces Standard Missile-3 designed to defend against short-to-intermediate range ballistic missile threats in the middle phase of flight as well as the Exoatmospheric Kill Vehicle, a key element of the Boeing Co-managed ground-based midcourse leg of the emerging U.S. shield.
Editing by Gary Hill