The United States has intercepted an intercontinental ballistic missile using a small, ship-fired weapon - a first for the Department of Defense's campaign to develop weapons that can thwart ICBMs capable of hitting the U.S. mainland.
The interception from a U.S. Navy destroyer shows the U.S. military now has a new missile defense technology capable of defending against North Korean ICBM's aimed at the U.S., the Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency said Tuesday.
Early on the same day, an unarmed target missile simulating an enemy ICBM was fired from the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test facility in the Marshall Islands toward a location of open ocean near Hawaii.
The USS John Finn destroyer - equipped with the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System - that was positioned in the area then unleashed an SM3 Missile that successfully hit the target ICBM.
Previous interceptor missile tests have been launched with the much bigger ground-based interceptor missiles based in California and Alaska designed to deter a North Korean ICBM attack on the U.S.
The success of the missile test is likely to get the attention of Pyongyang, whose development of ICBMs and other nuclear weapons is the primary reason the U.S. Defense Department has sought to fast-track its upgrade of missile defense systems in the last 10 years.
"This is an incredible accomplishment and critical milestone for the Aegis ballistic missile defense SM-3 Block IIA program," Good Morning America quoted Vice Admiral Jon Hill as saying in a statement.
According to Hans Kristensen, a missile and nuclear weapons expert with the Federation of American Scientists, the U.S. move to add a sea-based missile defense system against long-range threats is expected to make China feel a need to further boost its own long-range missile capability.
Although the Missile Defense Agency did not mention North Korea or any other nation in its statement, an agency representative disclosed that the target missiles were intended to "simulate a threat missile" from a rogue country.