ON JANUARY 25, a U.S. Navy ship successfully launched a missile interceptor carrying a warhead that collided with a ballistic missile target about 160 kilometers above the Pacific Ocean. The intercept, which the Pentagon predicted as "probable" prior to the test because of the planned flight paths of the two objects, marked the first hit for the sea-based system.
In the test, which the Pentagon described as a "controlled developmental test and not operationally representative," an Aries target missile was launched from Kauai, Hawaii. Six minutes later, the U.S.S. Lake Erie fired the Standard Missile-3 (SM-3). Approximately two minutes and 250 kilometers later, the SM-3's warhead struck the Aries target. The test objective was to test the warhead's guidance, navigation, and control, but not to achieve an intercept.
The January test, the system's fourth, took place just a little more than a month after the Pentagon cancelled a separate sea-based missile defense program because of spiraling costs and poor performance. Unlike the cancelled system, which employed a blast-fragmentation warhead, the system in the January test, formerly called Navy Theater Wide but now referred to as the sea-based midcourse ballistic missile defense system, uses a kinetic warhead, which destroys a target through force of impact rather than an explosion. …