The U.S. and Japan have successfully tested a new, more powerful SM-3 missile designed to intercept intermediate-range ballistic missiles from potential threats such as North Korea, officials said.
Sailors aboard the destroyer USS John Paul Jones (DDG 53) launched the SM-3 Block IIA developed by Raytheon Co., the world’s largest missile-maker, on Feb. 3 while sailing off the west coast of Hawaii, according to a release from the Missile Defense Agency.
Video of the exercise shows the missile streaking into the night sky and destroying an object a few seconds later (see below).
“[Friday’s] test demonstrates a critical milestone in the cooperative development of the SM-3 Block IIA missile,” Navy Vice Adm. Jim Syring, director of the Missile Defense Agency, said in a statement. “The missile, developed jointly by a Japanese and U.S. government and industry team, is vitally important to both our nations and will ultimately improve our ability to defend against increasing ballistic missile threats around the world.”
Fired from sea or land, the missile is designed to knock down incoming ballistic missiles using sheer impact — equivalent to a 10-ton truck traveling at 600 miles per hour, according to Raytheon.
The technology is an upgraded version of the Block IB missile already deployed on U.S. Navy ships and in Romania, Raytheon said. The Block IIA features a bigger warhead and larger rocket motors, thus providing more range, the company said. Compatible with the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense system, the weapon can be launched from Aegis-equipped ships or Aegis Ashore sites, according to the Navy.
The Block IIA is expected to be initially deployed in Poland in 2018, with other countries to follow suit.
In Asia, tensions between the U.S. and North Korea have escalated over the past year amid the North’s increasing test of nuclear devices and ballistic missiles under the regime of Kim Jong-Un. The North recently signaled it plans to test an intercontinental ballistic missile, or ICBM.
The SM-3 is designed to target medium and intermediate range ballistic missiles, not ICBMs.
The Pentagon’s missile defense arsenal alone includes underground interceptors in Alaska and California as part of the Ground-based Midcourse Defense System for long-range ICBMs; ship-based SM-3 missiles aboard Navy cruisers and destroyers equipped with the Aegis combat system for intermediate-range ballistic missiles; truck-mounted missile batteries as part of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, system for medium-range ballistic missiles; and truck-mounted PAC-3 missiles for short-range ballistic missiles.
The U.S. plans to deploy a THAAD battery in South Korea, which is also mulling adding SM-3 missiles to its destroyers to boost missile defenses; and Japan is considering fielding THAAD or the land-based Aegis Ashore system, as well as adding the more advanced SM-3 Block IIA missiles to its ships.