Erie shoots down missile in test

The military conducted a missile defense test yesterday, aiming to knock down a ballistic missile in its last few seconds of flight.

“It was the first sea-based intercept of a missile in its terminal phase,” said spokeswoman Pat Dolan of the U.S. Navy’s Naval Sea Systems Command in Washington, D.C.

In the test, the Pearl Harbor-based Aegis cruiser USS Lake Erie fired an Standard Missile 2 on a simulated ballistic missile launched from the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Missile Range Facility at Barking Sands.

PMRF spokesman Tom Clements said the test started at 10:45 a.m. and took less than five minutes.

Though it was the seventh ballistic missile defense test for PMRF, Clement said it was the first time a missile had been intercepted at the end of its flight.

Data has to be analyzed to determine if the latest firing was successful, he said. All six previous tests were successes.

For yesterday’s test, Clements said PMRF fired a “threat” missile from northwest Kaua‘i, which traveled about 100 miles before being destroyed.

In a statement released by the Missile Defense Agency, the ship was capable of destroying a missile by either a direct hit or a “near-direct hit,” in which case the warhead fragmentation would be enough to destroy the target.

The agency is part of the U.S. Department of Defense, and is the successor to the Strategic Defense Initiative, or “Star Wars” program.

The agency’s mission, according to its Web site, is to develop a ballistic missile defense system to protect the U.S., deployed forces, friends and allies against hostile missiles, when they are in the “boost,” “midcourse” and “terminal” phases of flight.

The agency says the boost phase, when the missile gains acceleration to lift its payload, lasts up to five minutes.

Lasting as long as 20 minutes, the midcourse phase is the longest part of the missile flight, where the missile’s payload separates from the booster rocket and coasts unpowered toward the target.

In the final phase, the missile’s warhead re-enters the atmosphere and falls toward its target, propelled by momentum and gravity. With a potential speed of several thousand miles per hour, the final phase lasts about 30 seconds, the agency says.

The local test took place after Iran test-fired a long-range missile on Tuesday with a range of 900 miles, easily capable of reaching Israel and U.S troops in Iraq.

The Iranian test-firing comes just days after the International Herald Tribune reported that North Korea reportedly moved a ballistic missile capable of reaching the U.S. to a launch site.

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