WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. military said on Tuesday it successfully tested a key missile defense system, a milestone that demonstrated U.S. capability to knock down an incoming, intermediate-range missile from countries like North Korea.
The Aegis ashore system used in the latest test was fitted with a Standard Missile 3 Block IIA (SM-3 IIA) interceptor being developed in a joint venture between Raytheon Co and Japan’s Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd.
Missile Defense Agency (MDA) Director Lieutenant General Sam Greaves said the successful test was significant.
“(It) was of great significance to the future of multi-domain missile defense operations and supports a critical initial production acquisition milestone for the SM-3 Block IIA missile program,” Greaves said.
In the recent test, a U.S. Air Force C-17 launched an intermediate-range ballistic missile and the interceptor was launched from the Pacific Missile Range Facility at Kauai, Hawaii, the MDA said.
In October, the U.S. military said it successfully tracked and intercepted a medium-range ballistic target missile.
In August, the Pentagon was given the mandate to pursue more options for defeating U.S.-bound North Korean missiles by using radar and more missiles to spot and shoot down inbound threats.
The military has been exploring whether the United States can add another layer of defenses to those already in place for intercepting incoming missiles.
The SM-3 IIA is expected to be equipped on U.S Aegis ashore stations in Romania and Poland. The Polish section of the defense shield is expected to be operational in 2020. The United States switched on the missile shield in Romania in 2016, which has angered Russia.
Earlier this month, the United States delivered Russia a 60-day ultimatum to come clean about what Washington says is a violation of an arms control treaty that keeps certain missiles out of Europe.
In 2017, Japan decided it would expand its ballistic missile defense system with U.S.-made ground-based Aegis radar stations and interceptors in response to North Korean rockets.
Reporting by Idrees Ali; Editing by Bill Berkrot