The U.S. Defense Department said Tuesday that it has successfully destroyed an intercontinental ballistic missile target from a Navy ship using a missile interceptor developed jointly with Japan.
The Standard Missile-3 Block 2A interceptors launched from Aegis destroyers are seen by the Pentagon as having the potential to add another layer of protection to its missile defense against ICBM threats, possibly from countries including North Korea, to the homeland.
With the latest test, the United States has demonstrated that an Aegis vessel equipped with the SM-3 interceptor can "defeat an ICBM-class target," Missile Defense Agency chief Vice Adm. Jon Hill said in a press release, calling the development a "critical milestone."
"This first-of-its-kind test shows that our nation has a viable option for a new layer of defense against long-range threats," said Bryan Rosselli, vice president at Raytheon Missiles & Defense, which developed the interceptor with Japan's Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd.
At approximately 7:50 p.m. Hawaii Standard Time on Monday, a mock ICBM was launched from a ballistic missile defense test site on the Marshall Islands toward the broad ocean area northeast of Hawaii. After receiving tracking data, the Aegis destroyer launched the SM-3 interceptor and destroyed the target, according to the department.
The move comes as the United States continues to face nuclear and missile threats from North Korea, while a transition of power from Republican President Donald Trump to Democratic President-elect Joe Biden is expected in January.
The last time Pyongyang tested an ICBM that could potentially deliver a nuclear warhead to the U.S. mainland was November 2017. It has not conducted a nuclear test since September of the same year.
But the secretive country has tested short-range missiles and it showed off in October what appeared to be a new type of ICBM during a military parade, suggesting it has continued to hone its military capabilities while nuclear negotiations with the United States have been in a stalemate.
The SM-3 Block 2A is being developed as the successor to SM-3 Block 1A to provide extended coverage for defense. It is also expected to have improved capabilities to deal with ballistic missiles fired at a more lofted angle than a normal trajectory.
Japanese technology is used in parts of the interceptor such as its nose cone.
The SM-3 Block 2A intercepted a mock ballistic missile in its first live target test in early 2017, according to Raytheon.