Missile test called a success

The Missile Defense Agency’s latest flight test, conducted jointly with the U.S. Navy at the Pacific Missile Range Facility yesterday morning, was a success, according to Rear Adm. Brad Hicks, Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense program director.

“We’re still going over the data, but all indications are that both missiles were very successful in reaching the target,” he said.

“We’re pretty excited about it.”

The target, a foreign-built “unitary scud-like” ballistic missile, was fired from the Navy ship Tripoli at 8:13 a.m. about 300 miles west of Kaua‘i.

Four minutes later, a pair of modified Standard Missile-2 Block IV missiles were fired within 1½ seconds of each other from the nearby Navy ship Lake Erie.

“The crew was not alerted to when it (the target) was going to be launched,” Hicks explained. “They were on BMD patrol.”

From their launch, it took the defense missiles roughly 52 seconds to reach and intercept the target some 12 miles above the Pacific Ocean and 100 miles west-northwest of Kaua‘i.

Unlike other missile defense technologies, the modified SM-2 Block IV missiles did not directly collide with the target, an approach termed “hit to kill.”

Instead, they used a blast fragmentation device that exploded near the target to intercept and destroy it, according to a statement from MDA director and Air Force Lt. Gen. Henry “Trey” Obering III.

The statement announced that the test was the second successful one of its kind and the 35th successful terminal and midcourse defense intercept in 43 attempts since 2001.

“It was a great day for the Lake Erie,” Hicks said of the ship that recently made headlines for shooting down a malfunctioning U.S. spy satellite in February. “I’m very proud.”

The sea-based, short-range, terminal-phase capability is not the end goal for the Aegis program, but a “gap-filler” that will provide additional layers of security.

“The beauty and criticality of this test is that it allows us to add to our defense in-depth,” Hicks said.

“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,” states Riki Ellison, president and founder of the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance, in a prepared statement.

While the new capability could be used in an emergency immediately, there will be a delay as the MDA and U.S. Navy first pore over data from the test and then install new software onto existing patrol ships.

“We’re going to have it fully certified by the fall, and on our 18 ships in the 20 to 22 months after that,” said Hicks, who estimated that MDA has spent some $120 million on the program so far.

Yesterday’s test cost is in the range of $40 million, with half being allocated to execution, engineering and analysis, and half being used on the three missiles.

Between $3 and $4 million of that total will flow through the local economy, officials said.

• Michael Levine, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 252) or mlevine@kauaipubco.com

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