Missile misses its mark after PMRF launch

For the first time in four tests, a U.S. missile designed to destroy a hostile missile missed its mark in waters off Kauai yesterday.

Gov. Linda Lingle and an estimated 500 other people from various government and civilian-contractor entities were at the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Missile Range Facility at Barking Sands to witness the most recent test of the U.S. Department of Defense’s Missile Defense Agency sea-based, anti-missile effort.

Liftoff of the target missile happened shortly after 1 p.m. from the launch site at PMRF, near Kekaha, and two minutes later an intercept missile was fired from the USS Lake Erie in waters off PMRF.

The intercept missile missed its target, although the primary objective of the test was to check systems aboard the intercept missile, according to Navy and DOD Ballistic Missile Defense officials.

The intercept missile did deploy its kinetic warhead as planned, and the test’s primary objective was to evaluate the intercept missile’s guidance, navigation and control operations, according to a BMD spokesman.

Aboard the cruiser Lake Erie is the Aegis BMD system, in its development phase. During the first three tests, including earlier target missiles launched from PMRF also involving the Lake Erie, interception occurred.

Gov. Linda Lingle was at the Barking Sands missile facility on Kauai to witness the test with other state officials. Even if the interceptor had destroyed its target, it would not have been visible from the ground because the two devices were supposed to meet some 100 nautical miles over the ocean.

Government and industry officials will conduct extensive analysis of yesterday’s flight test, and the results will be used to improve the Aegis BMD development and testing program, according to the BMD spokesman.

Raytheon Missile Systems is the prime contractor for the development of the SM-3 missile fired from the Lake Erie.

Lockheed Martin Naval and Electronic Surveillance Systems manages the development of the Aegis Weapon System installed in Aegis cruisers and destroyers, including upgrades for the Aegis BMD system.

Sandia National Laboratories has a long-time presence at PMRF, and is a Lockheed subsidiary. While Raytheon does not a Kauai office, there are some high-technology companies with offices here that are Raytheon subcontractors.

Raytheon is developing the ground-based radar component of THAAD, the Theater High Altitude Area Defense system. A THAAD missile-launch facility is under construction at PMRF.

This sea-based system was outlawed under the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, but President Bush gained the flexibility of testing it when the United States withdrew from the treaty last summer.

The plan also calls for the development of ground-based missile interceptors.

Since January 2001, the Pentagon has been successful in four of five attempts to intercept a long-range warhead in space with an interceptor launched from Kwajalein Atoll in the central Pacific. The most recent of those land-based interceptor tests was in December, and also resulted in a miss.

Critics have questioned whether Bush’s goal is feasible and whether the threat of attack is sufficient to justify the expense.

It was Lingle’s first observance of live testing activities at the Kauai base.

Some 500 civilian engineers and technicians also attended the test. Navy spokeswoman Lt. Cmdr. Jane Campbell said the Navy wanted to show off both the missile technology and the economic importance of the Pacific Missile Range Facility, one of the largest civilian employers on Kauai.

As in past tests, media were barred from the facility.

On the Net:

Missile Defense Agency: http://www.acq.osd.mil/bmdo/bmdolink/html/bmdolink.html

Pacific Missile Range Facility: http://www.pmrf.navy.mil/

Business Editor Paul C. Curtis can be reached at mailto:pcurtis@pulitzer.net or 245-3681 (ext. 224).

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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