A top DoD spokesman said Wednesday that a U.S. Navy warship did not shoot down Libyan Scud missiles fired in the final days of Moammar Qaddafi's regime, contrary to a few reports in late August. "Didn't happen," Marine Col. Dave Lapan told DoDBuzz, in response to a request for additional information about the incident.
Lapan's statement came after shrugs by officials across the Navy, who said they hadn't heard about any such incident and had no information about it one way or another. The detail was part of a story in The Daily Beast headlined "America's Secret Libya War," which listed many of the lesser-known ways the U.S. military had assisted NATO and the Libyan rebel alliance in their campaign against Qaddafi. Citing one American and one European official, reporter John Barry wrote this:
"When a desperate Qaddafi began to launch Scud missiles into towns held by the opposition, a U.S. guided-missile destroyer offshore negated his offensive by shooting down the Scuds." At least one other news outlet, the British newspaper The Guardian, also reported a U.S. warship intercepted as many as four of the missiles.
The story is plausible: American Aegis cruisers and destroyers are equipped and armed for just such a job, and they've been tasked by the Obama administration with providing the first elements of the "phased adaptive approach" for ballistic missile defense of Europe. But although Aegis has a solid record of hitting targets during tests, and it also was adapted to destroy a U.S. satellite in a decaying orbit in 2008, it has seldom been tested against actual missile targets in combat.
Naval blogger CDR Salamander was on the air about the reports Wednesday in a post on the U.S. Naval Institute's blog, in which he said it was entirely possible reporters had gotten their facts wrong -- but if they hadn't, the Navy had missed a huge opportunity to extol its ballistic missile defense capabilities.
So if a Navy SM-2 missile didn't shoot down the Libyan Scud or Scuds, what did? According to reports at the time, NATO aircraft tracked and destroyed the missiles in midair. That may have happened, or it's also possible the missiles just missed their targets, and when rebel fighters heard them explode in the distance, they may have misidentified the cause.