The United States and Japan conducted a joint test of a new projectile for the Aegis Missile Defense System on Wednesday. The interceptor failed to hit its target, though U.S. and Japanese officials were weary of calling it a failure.
The SM-3 Block IIA interceptor missile is a joint project currently under development by both the United States and Japan. Once fully fielded, it is intended to defeat medium and intermediate-range ballistic missiles, though it is not currently in use by either nation. The Current Aegis Missile Defense System employs the SM-3 Block 1A, SM-3 Block 1B, and SM-6 interceptors.
At approximately 7:20PM Hawaii time, a medium-range ballistic target missile was launched from the Pacific Missile Range Facility at Kauai, Hawaii. Soon thereafter, the USS John Paul Jones (DDG 53) detected and began tracking the missile via its onboard AN/SPY-1 radar that uses the Aegis Baseline 9.C2 weapon system.
The ship then launched a single SM-3 Block IIA guided missile intended to intercept its target in the middle of its flight path, while it’s at its highest altitude. The interceptor missed, however, failing to destroy its target. Both governments indicated, however, that the test was not a complete failure of the platform.
The U.S. Missile Defense Agency issued a statement summarizing the test, and then indicated that they will begin an “extensive analysis of the test data.” They also stated that no further details about the test will be released until that analysis is complete.
The SM-3 Block IIA missile used in Wednesday’s test is slated for deployment as part of the Aegis System currently employed as part of a multi-phase strategy aimed at preventing nations like North Korea from successfully targeting U.S. and allied assets in the Pacific and in Europe. This was the missile’s fourth flight test and second intercept test. The first time the U.S. attempted to intercept a missile using the SM-3 Block IIA was in February, and was successful.
Earlier iterations of the design already deployed in the Pacific and in Europe can be placed on land installations as well as on Naval vessels, and boasts an impressive record of 25 successful space intercepts. Raytheon has delivered more than 240 of the interceptor missiles to American and Japanese defense forces around the world.
The Block IIA missile comes equipped with larger rocket motors that will allow it to defend a broader area from ballistic missile threats, as well as a larger kinetic warhead. This is the third model of the platform, as a part of what Raytheon calls a “Phased Adaptive Approach” which initiated with Phase 1 in 2011, and is expected to continue with the roll out of these missiles, considered Phase 3, in 2018.
The Aegis Missile Defense System is part of a larger missile defense strategy that includes THAAD launchers such as those currently deployed in South Korea. Both systems rely on identifying missile threats and launching projectiles to intercept them before they can reach their targets.
The THAAD system in South Korea saw immediate criticism from China, who worried the powerful radar array employed by the system could potentially be used to spy on equipment placements within China’s borders, and new South Korean President Moon Jai-in has ordered a temporary halt on additional THAAD launchers being deployed, pending a full environmental analysis. It is widely speculated that his decision to do so came about as a result of Chinese financial pressures, however, rather than environmental concern.
Image courtesy of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency