The Japanese military became the first U.S. ally to shoot down a midrange ballistic missile from a ship at sea in a test Monday.
The U.S. military has conducted similar successful tests in the past, but this time the interceptor was fired from a Japanese ship, the JS Kongo, said the U.S. Missile Defense Agency, which carried out the test. The target warhead was knocked out about 100 miles (160 kilometers) above the Pacific Ocean.
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 three additional vessels with interceptors.
Japan’s top government spokesman Nobutaka Machimura hailed the test result.
“This is very significant for Japanese national security,” Machimura said at a regular press briefing in Tokyo. “The Defense Ministry and the government have been putting efforts into the development of ballistic missile defense, and we will continue to install the needed equipment and conduct exercises.”
The Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kauai, run by the U.S. Navy, fired the target missile into the sky at 12:05 p.m. Hawaii time. The Kongo tracked the missile, then fired its interceptor three minutes later.
The target was destroyed at 12:11 p.m., the Missile Defense Agency said in a news release.
The USS Lake Erie, a Pearl Harbor-based guided missile cruiser, tracked the missile target and fed information on it to a command center.
Experts say the test will likely strengthen the U.S.-Japan defense alliance. The Missile Defense Agency called the test “a major milestone in the growing cooperation between Japan and the U.S.”
But it may also deepen concerns in Beijing that Tokyo could use the technology to help the U.S. defend Taiwan if conflict erupted with China.
Associated Press writer Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo contributed to this report.