One day after the latest North Korean missile launch, which was followed by a warning in the state-owned KCNA that more Pacific launches would follow, the U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA) said a U.S. Navy destroyer in the Pacific shot down a medium-range ballistic missile during a test off Hawai on Wednesday.
Destroyer USS John Paul Jones intercepts the target with an SM-6 missile.
(Missile Defense Agency photo)
In the "complex missile defense flight test," the USS John Paul Jones detected and tracked a test ballistic missile that had been launched from Kaui, Hawaii, then fired one of its onboard SM-6 missiles to intercept the target in its terminal phase, the Missile Defense Agency said in a release. It said it marked the second time an SM-6 missile has successfully intercepted a medium-range ballistic missile in a test.
Quoted by USA Today, MDA Director Lt. Gen. Sam Greaves said the test marked a "key milestone."
"We are working closely with the fleet to develop this important capability, and this was a key milestone in giving our Aegis BMD ships an enhanced capability to defeat ballistic missiles in their terminal phase," said Missile Defense Agency Director Lt. Gen. Sam Greaves. "We will continue developing ballistic missile defense technologies to stay ahead of the threat as it evolves."
According to the WashExaminer, in a similar drill last December, John Paul Jones fired two SM-6 missiles against a test medium-range ballistic missile (made by Raytheon). In a release on Wednesday morning, the company said it rushed enhanced software for the missile based on a request from the government. The SM-6, which is part of the Standard Missile family, is the only sea-based missile that can knock down ballistic missiles in their terminal phase, while also handling air and surface threats.
"Earlier this year, our customer requested an enhanced capability to deal with a sophisticated medium-range ballistic missile threat," said Mike Campisi, Raytheon's SM-6 senior program director. "We did all this — the analysis, coding and testing — in seven months; a process that normally takes one to two years."
The Pentagon on Tuesday confirmed that North Korea fired an intermediate-range ballistic missile near Sunan Air Base, which then flew over northern Japan before landing in the Pacific Ocean 500 nautical miles east of Japan. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un later threatened further action.
"The current ballistic rocket launching drill like a real war is the first step of the military operation of the KPA in the Pacific and a meaningful prelude to containing Guam," Kim said, according to state-run media outlet KCNA.
On Tuesday, the White House responded to the North Korean launch on Tuesday, saying "all options are on the table."
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North Korea on Wednesday released images of its intermediate-range ballistic missile launch over Japan a day before. The official Korean Central News Agency reported Wednesday that the Hwasong-12, the first missile the nation has fired over Japan, was “guided” by leader Kim Jong Un and observed by senior officials.
“Involved in the drill were Hwasong artillery units…tasked with striking the bases of the U.S. imperialist aggressor forces located in the Pacific operational theater,” the KCNA reported.
It said the launch of the intermediate-range rocket was “part of the muscle-flexing” in reaction to ongoing military drills by the U.S. and South Korea, “in disregard” for Pyongyang’s “meaningful and crucial warning.” The North sees the military exercises as a preparation for war.
Kim said "more ballistic missile rocket launching drills" are "necessary" to modernize his military's strategic capabilities and that his country will continue to watch “U.S. demeanors” before it decides on future actions. The North Korean leader expressed "great satisfaction" with what he called a “meaningful prelude” to containing the U.S. territory of Guam, which he has threatened to fire four missiles toward.
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Late on Tuesday the U.N. Security Council said it “strongly condemns” the missile test and the North’s launching of three ballistic missiles into the sea on Aug. 25. It demanded that Pyongyang “immediately cease all such actions” in a statement following an emergency meeting Tuesday. However, in a sign of de-escalation, it did not announce new sanctions.
Choo Mi-ae, the head of South Korea’s ruling Democratic Party, urged Pyongyang to accept its offer of dialogue and said “such an act that threatens neighboring nations is unpardonable," the South’s Yonhap news agency reported. "If North Korea trusts South Korea's government and holds its hands, the door will open for its survival. Otherwise, it will face more serious isolation,” Choo said. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said his country will “fully and completely” abide by U.N. Security Council sanctions and would work with other council members on how best to react to the North’s latest action. “We will make a necessary response,” Wang said. China, North Korea’s most important ally, accounts for about 90% of the North’s foreign trade.
Early on Thursday, British Prime Minister Theresa May called on China to put more pressure on North Korea, as she arrived in Japan for a three-day visit Wednesday. “We think that China has a role to play and we’d encourage China to do everything it can to bring pressure on North Korea to stop this,” she said.
Earlier this month, the Trump administration imposed sanctions on 10 companies and six individuals from mostly China and Russia who it says helped North Korea develop its nuclear and ballistic missile programs. They were the latest in a raft of blacklists issued in recent months to punish Chinese and Russian companies that try to evade international efforts to isolate North Korea.