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Army bests Navy in missile intercept test

Oct. 26, 2012 - 06:02AM   |   Last Updated: Oct. 26, 2012 - 06:02AM  |  
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The final score: Army 3; Navy 1.

That's the number of missiles each service shot down in the largest missile shield test ever, a joint exercise held in the western Pacific on Oct. 24. The Army shot down two ballistic missiles and one cruise missile at Kwajalein Atoll.

In contrast, the destroyer Fitzgerald engaged a cruise missile but missed the ballistic one. The reasons for the miss are unclear, but the Missile Defense Agency chalked up the whole exercise as a success.

MDA said that the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system operated by the Army "successfully intercepted its first medium-range ballistic target in history," according to an Oct. 25 news release.

Fitzgerald — a Yokosuka, Japan-based ship equipped with the Aegis ballistic missile defense system and armed with SM-3 intercept missiles — "successfully engaged" a cruise missile flying low over the ocean, MDA said. The ballistic missile was another matter.

"The Aegis system also tracked and launched an SM-3 Block 1A interceptor against a short-range ballistic missile," the press release said. "However, despite indication of a nominal flight of the SM-3 Block 1A interceptor, there was no indication of an intercept."

Reached the day after the exercise, MDA spokeswoman Pamela Rogers said engineers were still collecting data and that it was too soon to say why the destroyer's shot missed.

The Pentagon has bet heavily on building a missile shield. MDA, the Pentagon agency responsible for developing it, garnered nearly $8 billion in the latest budget. And BMD-capable ships serve as a critical piece of the European missile shield, which is expanding to include forward-stationing four destroyers to Rota, Spain, and emplacing Aegis radar arrays ashore over the next decade. It is designed to protect Europe from ballistic missiles fired by rogue nations, such as Iran.

The Navy's test results have been hit and miss. Cruiser Lake Erie shot down a ballistic missile target in June with the latest missile, an SM-3 Block 1B. That's an improvement over the first test in September 2011, when the missile missed.

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