Three weeks ago, the US military conducted its first successful test of a ground-based anti-intercontinental ballistic missile system that had cost more than $40 billion to develop, with the Pentagon lauding the test as “an incredible accomplishment.”
But the Navy had no such luck on Wednesday following an unsuccessful test of a new ship-based anti-ICBM projectile. As the Missile Defense Agency announced in a press release, the test of the new SM-3 Block IIA missile - which was conducted jointly by the US and Japan's Ministry of Defense – had failed.
The test, conducted Wednesday, was the second intercept test of the SM-3, and the first to yield an unsuccessful result. The previous test was conducted in February. The missile is being designed jointly by the US and Japan with the explicit intent of countering the threat posed by North Korea's increasingly sophisticated nuclear program, according to the MDA.
"The U.S. Missile Defense Agency and the Japan Ministry of Defense conducted a development flight test today of a new Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) Block IIA missile off the coast of Hawaii. A planned intercept was not achieved.
The SM-3 Block IIA is being developed cooperatively by the U.S. and Japan to defeat medium- and intermediate-range ballistic missiles. This is a new, developmental interceptor that is not yet fielded by either country.
At approximately 7:20 p.m., Hawaii Standard Time, June 21 (1:20 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time, June 22), a medium-range ballistic target missile was launched from the Pacific Missile Range Facility at Kauai, Hawaii. The USS John Paul Jones (DDG 53) detected and tracked the target missile with its onboard AN/SPY-1 radar using the Aegis Baseline 9.C2 weapon system. Upon acquiring and tracking the target, the ship launched an SM-3 Block IIA guided missile, but the missile did not intercept the target.
Program officials will conduct an extensive analysis of the test data. Until that review is complete, no additional details will be available."
This was the fourth development flight test using an SM-3 IIA missile, and the second intercept test. The previous intercept test, conducted in February 2017, was successful.
Though currently still in the development and test phase, the SM-3 Block IIA interceptor is being designed to operate as part of the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense system. Currently, the Aegis BMD system operates with the SM-3 Block 1A, SM-3 Block 1B, and SM-6 interceptors.
The Pentagon announced on May 31 that it had succeeded in thwarting a simulated ICBM attack using its Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system, which the military hailed that as “an incredible accomplishment.”
Riki Ellison, founder of the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance, described the test as "vital" prior to launch. "We are replicating our ability to defend the United States of America from North Korea, today," Ellison said.
That test was the first of its kind in nearly three years, and the first test ever to target an intercontinental-range missile like North Korea is developing. Full text of the news release from the Pentagon can be found below:
HOMELAND MISSILE DEFENSE SYSTEM SUCCESSFULLY INTERCEPTS ICBM TARGET
The U.S. Missile Defense Agency, in cooperation with the U.S. Air Force 30th Space Wing, the Joint Functional Component Command for Integrated Missile Defense and U.S. Northern Command, today successfully intercepted an intercontinental ballistic missile target during a test of the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) element of the nation's ballistic missile defense system.
This was the first live-fire test event against an ICBM-class target for GMD and the U.S. ballistic missile defense system.
During the test, an ICBM-class target was launched from the Reagan Test Site on Kwajalein Atoll in the Republic of the Marshall Islands. Multiple sensors provided target acquisition and tracking data to the Command, Control, Battle Management and Communication (C2BMC) system. The Sea-Based X-band radar, positioned in the Pacific Ocean, also acquired and tracked the target. The GMD system received the target tracking data and developed a fire control solution to intercept the target.
The primary difference between the two anti-ICBM systems is that the SM-3 Block IIA missile is designed to be launched from a ship, providing the US with more flexibility when deploying it. The GMD system tested by the Pentagon last month is, as its name suggests, ground-based.
We now wait to see how the North will respond - specifically, whether the hermit kingdom will follow through with what would be its 10th ballistic missile test since the start of the year. The US anti-ICBM test follows the death of University of Virginia student Otto Warmbier, who passed away earlier this week after being released to the US for medical reasons. Warmbier had reportedly been in a coma for a year after being arrested in North Korea. His crime? He was caught stealing a North Korean propaganda poster.