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Sea-based missileshield passes a test

A missile launched from a U.S. Navy ship shattered a dummy warhead over the Pacific on Thursday, the fourth intercept in five tests of a sea-based missile shield, the Pentagon said.
/ Source: Reuters

A missile from a U.S. Navy Aegis cruiser shattered a dummy warhead over the Pacific Thursday, the fourth intercept in five tests of the sea-based leg of a planned multi-layered missile shield, the Pentagon said.

The Standard Missile-3 fired from the Lake Erie off Kauai in the Hawaiian islands "successfully engaged the target" about four minutes after the target was launched, said Chris Taylor, a spokesman for the Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency.

The Pentagon described the test as part of increasingly "complex, stressing and operationally realistic ballistic missile engagement scenarios."

But it did not specify in what way the scenario had been made more realistic.

"Future tests will continue to increase operational realism," said a statement. Among other things, decoys could be added to the mix. The intercept relied on "hit-to-kill" technology, using only the force of the collision to destroy the target, the Pentagon said.

The last such test, on June 18, failed when the interceptor missile missed its target.

President Bush has ordered a Pacific missile defense "testbed" be fielded by Sept. 30, 2004, partly to thwart a perceived threat from North Korea. The initial deployment will include six ground-based interceptor missiles at Fort Greely, Alaska and four at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

Up to 20 sea-based interceptors, spread among three Aegis cruisers, are to be folded into the system starting in 2005.

Lockheed Martin Corp., based in Bethesda, Maryland, is the prime contractor for the Aegis weapon system and vertical launch system. It is described as capable of simultaneous operation defending against advanced air, surface, subsurface and ballistic missile threats.

Raytheon Co., based in Waltham, Massachusetts, builds the Standard Missile-3.

Lockheed said the intercept took place outside the Earth's atmosphere during the target missile's descent. The Pentagon is seeking to build defenses that would also go after warheads in their boost and mid-course flight paths.

The Aegis system is deployed on 67 U.S. Navy cruisers and destroyers, and at least 22 more ships are planned, Lockheed said in a statement.

Aegis is the primary weapon system on Japanese Kongo-class destroyers, which could also join in a missile shield to protect joint forces, seaports, inland airfields, political and military assets and population centers.

The test Thursday was designed to evaluate the system's long-range surveillance and track functions, the Missile Defense Agency said. The system could be used with other missile defense components, including a ground-based mid-course defense designed to guard the United States against long-range ballistic missile attacks.

The Pentagon plans to spend $50 billion over the next five years to develop the planned shield, including components based on land, at sea, in the air -- in laser-firing Boeing Co. 747 aircraft -- and in space.