updated 9/18/2008 6:45:05 AM ET 2008-09-18T10:45:05

The U.S. military aborted an attempt Wednesday to shoot down an incoming missile with two interceptors after the target malfunctioned shortly after launch off the Hawaiian island of Kauai.

It was the first breakdown after five successful tests of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system, or THAAD. Four of the successful test had been conducted with launches from the Pacific Missile Range at Barking Sands and one from White Sands, New Mexico.

The Missile Defense Agency said that because of the failure, the two THAAD interceptor missiles that were to take part in the test were not launched. So the full test was never completed.

It was the second time a target missile had failed, resulting in a scrapping of the interceptor launch, leaving the test missiles available for future tests. The first failure was early on in the tests, which began at White Sands in 2005.

"THAAD has never had an unsuccessful attempt at an intercept," said agency spokeswoman Pamela Rogers. She said the agency will investigate the cause of the malfunction.

Rogers said the target missile was launched at 4:05 p.m. Hawaii time (10 p.m. ET) from a mobile platform on the decommissioned USS Tripoli helicopter carrier.

"Because of the target malfunction, the target did not have enough momentum to reach the open ocean area previously approved for safe intercept," she said, adding that the target missile fell into the sea within the safe area.

Like Patriot anti-missile defenses, THAAD is designed to knock out ballistic missiles in their final minute of flight. Unlike the Patriot system, however, it is designed to intercept targets at higher altitudes, enabling it to defend a larger area.

Even so, it can only target short and medium-range missiles. Intercontinental ballistic missiles are out of its range.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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