Image: A missile is launched in Japan
Japan Maritime Self-Defense Forc
Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force ship Chokai launches a missile near Hawaii on Thursday. A naval destroyer failed to shoot down a ballistic missile during a test on Wednesday.
updated 11/20/2008 7:36:01 AM ET 2008-11-20T12:36:01

A Japanese navy ship on Wednesday failed to shoot down a mid-range ballistic missile target in a test off the coast of the Hawaiian island of Kauai, the U.S. Missile Defense Agency announced.

It was only the second time Japan had attempted to shoot down a ballistic missile from a ship at sea. The first attempt last year was successful.

In Wednesday's test, a ballistic missile target launched from the Pacific Missile Range Facility at Barking Sands on Kauai was detected and tracked by the crew of the JS Chokai.

Three minutes later, the Japanese destroyer fired an interceptor missile to shoot down the target in space, but the intercept failed.

'We have a great record'
There was no immediate determination as to what went wrong.

"What we do know for a fact is that the weapons system on the Chokai and the crew of the Chokai performed superbly in operating the Aegis weapons system," U.S. Rear Admiral Brad Hicks said.

The $55 million test paid for by Japan went well until the last few seconds when "an anomaly" occurred aboard the interceptor missile, causing it to lose track of the target, Hicks said.

"I'm confident that we'll rectify the issue," he said.

Hicks said it was only the fourth failure out of 20 Aegis ballistic missile defense program tests.

"We have a great record," he said.

The joint test followed a similar test last December, when the JS Kongo, another Japanese destroyer, intercepted a ballistic missile target fired from the facility on Kauai.

'Test for our allies'
U.S. Navy ships and the Missile Defense Agency have together conducted over a dozen successful ballistic missile intercepts in tests off Hawaii. Wednesday's test offered the Japanese navy a chance to verify the technology on board its own ship.

"This is a test for our allies to help build their confidence and understanding of their system," Mary Keifer, Lockheed Martin's director for international ballistic missile defense programs, had said before the test.

Tokyo has invested heavily in missile defense since North Korea test-fired a long-range missile over northern Japan in 1998. It has installed missile tracking technology on several navy ships and has plans to equip two additional destroyers with interceptors.

Both this year's and last year's targets were medium-range missiles.

This year, however, the target's booster and warhead were designed to separate more slowly. That gave the interceptor missile less time to distinguish between the booster and the warhead when it was homing in on the target.

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

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