The military destroyed a simulated salvo of two short-range ballistic missiles more than 100 miles (160 kilometers) over the Pacific Tuesday night in the first such simultaneous test in space.
The event marked the 10th and 11th successful ballistic missile intercepts for Lockheed Martin Corp’s sea-based Aegis system in 13 attempts, the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency said.
“We consider it a simultaneous engagement,” agency spokesman Richard Lehner said Wednesday. “That means both targets were in flight at the same time even though they were not intercepted at precisely the same moment.”
The Aegis system tested is part of a fledgling, multibillion-dollar U.S. shield designed to thwart missiles tipped with deadly warheads that could be fired by potential foes like North Korea and Iran.
MDA said the test marked the 32nd and 33rd successful “hit to kill” intercepts since 2001, but it did not specify out of how many attempts. “Hit to kill” means the targets are destroyed by collision.
Lehner described the drill as “very operationally realistic,” partly because a foe probably would attack with more than one missile, he said.
In addition, the crew of the Aegis-equipped guided missile cruiser Lake Erie did not know when the targets were going to be launched, though they were on alert as they would have been amid heightened tensions, Lehner said.
Two Standard Missile-3 interceptors built by Raytheon were fired from the Lake Erie, which was off the coast of Kauai, Hawaii. The single-stage target missiles — with warheads that did not separate from their booster rockets — were fired within moments of each other from a missile range on Kauai.
“With two targets engaged simultaneously, both the system and the crew are under additional stress, and today they performed flawlessly,” Orlando Carvalho, general manager of Lockheed Martin’s related business line, said in a company release.
Earlier Tuesday, U.S. House and Senate negotiators approved $8.7 billion for missile defense programs, shaving $185 million from President Bush’s request for fiscal 2008, which began October 1. Lawmakers added $75 million for the Aegis program.
Many experts remain skeptical about U.S. prospects in more complex scenarios — for instance, involving long-range missiles, separating warheads and decoys.
The anti-missile shield’s backbone, managed by Boeing Co and known as the ground-based mid-course defense, has made intercepts in about half of its 13 or so tries, “all under highly scripted circumstances,” said Victoria Samson, an expert at the private Center for Defense Information.
The Japanese guided missile destroyer Kongo, newly equipped with the Aegis ballistic missile defense system, used the test as a training exercise in preparation for the first ballistic missile intercept test by a Japanese ship, due by the end of next month, MDA said.