Missiles destroyed

MANA — The second time was the charm for the Missile Defense Agency yesterday as a United States Navy ship successfully intercepted two simulated, simultaneous attacks — one from the air and another launched from the Pacific Missile Range Facility — in a test of its Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense system off the coast of Kaua‘i.

A similar test failed last December due to a system error that prevented both interceptors on the “USS Lake Erie” from launching.

Yesterday’s launch, however, went off without a hitch at 11:31 a.m., according to Missile Defense Agency spokesman Chris Taylor, who called the event “almost picture perfect.”

“It continues to show the world-class facility that you have here at PMRF,” Taylor said.

The event sets a precedent as the first time that Aegis has stopped two missiles at the same time.

The Lake Erie, positioned about 250 miles northwest of Kaua‘i, launched a Standard Missile-2 and Standard Missile-3 within seconds of each other to stop the air threat in altitude and the other about 100 miles into the atmosphere, respectively, Taylor said. The SM-2 works by exploding prior to impact, and its blast fragments destroy the target, while the SM-3 uses the sheer kinetic energy of impact to do the same.

As one of many layers of defense against attacks, Aegis specializes in sea-based, short- and mid-range missile interception. There are currently eight Navy ships equipped with the system and funding for 18 more by 2009 has already been programmed, Taylor said.

“The lessons (the Lake Erie’s captain) has learned from December to now, he will pass them along to the seven other Aegis ships that are identically equipped,” he added, noting that it is very likely that a warship would need to defend itself against two real-life threats at once.

The test was the 10th of the Aegis system, eight of which have been successful and all of which have been conducted from the Pacific Missile Range Facility.

According to Riki Ellison, president and founder of the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance, the Aegis system and others like it are critical in providing a non-violent option for defense against attacks.

“It’s one of the only things in defense that doesn’t kill or harm life,” he said.

Ellison, a former NFL linebacker for 10 years, started the nonprofit alliance in 2003 because of his passion for, and belief in, missile defense.

He said that while many misconceptions have dissipated since he first took interest in the subject during the Reagan era, it remains relevant today in light of the nuclear instabilities of North Korea and Iran.

The alliance has more than 50 volunteers around the nation who advocate for missile defense, and Ellison himself spends a lot of time traveling abroad to facilitate discussion on the issue.

“We want to see more (missile defense systems) out there working,” he said, stressing that it provides a critical nexus between diplomacy and offensive action.

In addition to Aegis, which is strictly sea-based, land-based systems protect against long- to short-range threats and vary in mobility.

The Army’s Theater High-Altitude Area Defense system, which resembles a large tank and offers mobile protection, is still in the testing phase as well.

A THAAD missile system tracked the missiles launched from the Kaua‘i facility during yesterday’s test.

• Blake Jones, business writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 251) or bjones@kauaipubco.com.

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