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Pearl Vessel Goes 1-for-2 in Test of Missile Defense

The Pearl Harbor destroyer USS John Paul Jones, among the most capable ballistic missile defense ships in the Navy fleet, shot down a simulated anti-ship cruise missile Saturday but failed to knock down an extended medium-range ballistic missile target during a "layered defense" test.

The miss was covered by a backup -- the land-based Terminal High Altitude Area Defense -- that intercepted the target. News agency Reuters said the exercise cost $230 million.

The test in the vicinity of Wake Island and surrounding areas "produced the most realistic warfighting environment ever created by the Missile Defense Agency" to gauge U.S. "layered" regional defense systems increasingly being deployed around the world, said the nonprofit Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance, which supports a strong missile defense.

"This was a highly complex operational test of the (ballistic missile defense system) which required all elements to work together in an integrated layered defense design to detect, track, discriminate, engage and negate the ballistic missile threats," the Missile Defense Agency said.

The Navy's Aegis ballistic missile defense ships, which are in high demand, are being augmented by similar land-based capabilities known as "Aegis Ashore" and the THAAD terminal-phase defense.

(Iran last month tested a long-range ballistic missile it said can hit Israel.)

"The live-fire event showed the reality of chaos for the warfighter and tested system reliability, decision-making and execution of multiple systems," the advocacy alliance said.

The attack included the firing of a short-range ballistic missile from an Air Force C-17 cargo aircraft southeast of Wake Island which was successfully intercepted by THAAD. While that was happening, an extended medium-range ballistic missile was air-launched by another C-17.

Shortly after that a BQM-74E turbojet aerial target simulating an anti-ship cruise missile was launched and subsequently tracked by the John Paul Jones.

As a demonstration of layered defense, both the John Paul Jones and land-based THAAD launched interceptors to engage the medium-range missile threat. The ship's SM-3 Block 1B interceptor failed to hit its target, but the THAAD battery on Wake Island tracked the missile and destroyed it, the advocacy alliance said.

The John Paul Jones did shoot down the anti-ship cruise missile with an SM-2 Block IIIA guided missile. An "anomaly" early in the SM-3's flight prevented a midcourse intercept of the medium-range missile. "A failure review is currently underway to investigate the SM-3 anomaly," the Missile Defense Agency said.

"What is clearly evident from the success of the test is the tremendous value of the THAAD land-based system" coupled with the newest "Baseline 9" Aegis ballistic missile defense ships, the advocacy alliance said. "These two systems together provide extremely high reliability and U.S. combatant commander confidence for regional defenses" of Europe, South Korea, Japan, Israel and the Gulf Cooperation Council states of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, the alliance said.

The John Paul Jones replaced the cruiser USS Lake Erie at Pearl Harbor in 2014 as the main test bed for ballistic missile defense testing.

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