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Ship-launched Raytheon missile intercepts ICBM target in first-time test
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Ship-launched Raytheon missile intercepts ICBM target in first-time test

The USS John Finn launches a Raytheon Standard Missile-3 Block IIA missile to destroy an ICBM off Hawaii on Nov. 16, 2020.

A missile made by Tucson-based Raytheon Missiles & Defense destroyed a mock intercontinental ballistic missile over the Pacific Ocean near Hawaii — a key milestone in the effort to meet the threat of long-range missiles launched by North Korea or other adversaries.

During a test conducted Monday night northeast of Hawaii, the Navy guided-missile destroyer USS John Finn launched a Raytheon Standard Missile-3 Block IIA that intercepted and destroyed a “threat-representative intercontinental ballistic missile target” launched from a test site in the Marshall Islands, the Missile Defense Agency and Raytheon announced Tuesday.

Though the MDA’s ground-based missile defense system has successfully intercepted ICBMs in tests, Monday’s test was the first intercept of an ICBM target by Raytheon’s SM-3 Block IIA, the latest generation of its ship-based SM-3 interceptors.

The USS John Finn used data from a system linked to a global system of radars and sensors, also used by the ground-based defense system, to track the target and launch its interceptor before the target was within its radar range in a process known as “engage on remote,” the MDA said.

“This first-of-its-kind test shows that our nation has a viable option for a new layer of defense against long-range threats,” Bryan Rosselli, vice president of strategic missile defense at Raytheon Missiles & Defense, said in prepared remarks.

Space-based sensors made by Texas-based Raytheon Intelligence & Space detected and tracked the target and relayed the data to commanders, “in a demonstration of space-based early warning,” the company said.

MDA Director Vice Admiral Jon Hill called the successful intercept “an incredible accomplishment and critical milestone” for the SM-3 Block IIA program, which is part of the primarily ship-based Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense system.

Hill said the MDA is studying the possibility of augmenting the Ground-based Midcourse Defense system, which uses large interceptors housed in ground silos in Alaska and California, by fielding additional sensors and weapon systems “to hedge against unexpected developments in the missile threat.”

Co-developed with Japan, the SM-3 IIA is a larger, faster and more capable version of the SM-3 IA originally deployed aboard U.S. ships in 2011 for missile defense of Europe and the upgraded SM-3 IB deployed in 2014. The SM-3 is also deployed at a ground-based “Aegis Ashore” site in Romania, with now-delayed plans for another site in Poland.

The recent test flight was the sixth of an Aegis BMD- equipped vessel using the SM-3 Block IIA missile and was originally scheduled for May, before it was delayed due to COVID-19 restrictions, the MDA said.

The test satisfied a Congressional mandate to evaluate the feasibility of using the SM-3 Block IIA missile — originally designed to hit intermediate-range missiles — to defeat an ICBM threat by the end of 2020, the agency said.

Contact senior reporter David Wichner at dwichner@tucson.com or 573-4181. On Twitter: @dwichner. On Facebook: Facebook.com/DailyStarBiz.

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