Designed to counter short- and medium-range ballistic missiles, the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense system hit an Aries missile target as it descended toward Earth roughly four minutes after being launched from Kauai, Hawaii. The target missile was initially detected and tracked by one ship. A second ship then fired the Aegis system’s Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) interceptor, and the interceptor’s kill vehicle collided with and destroyed the target at an altitude of 137 kilometers.
The test marked the fourth in a six-test series, which is to be completed in 2005. The two remaining tests in the series are unlikely to differ much from those that preceded them.
However, there will be additional rounds of testing that are intended to become more challenging. One possibility for these tests is the use of targets that separate rather than remaining in one large, easy-to-track piece.
To date, the Aegis system has an overall record of four hits and one miss. The failure took place on June 18, 2003, and was blamed by Pentagon and nonmilitary analysts on a mechanical mishap in the interceptor’s kill vehicle that caused it to maneuver incorrectly and lose sight of the target.
President George W. Bush’s missile defense deployment plans calls for fielding up to 20 SM-3 interceptors on three ships between 2004 and 2005. Another 15 ships are to be fitted with upgraded radars to help them perform ballistic missile tracking.