The Pentagon’s newest ballistic missile interceptor successfully destroyed a test missile off the coast of Hawaii late Wednesday. It’s a first for the latest upgrade to the America’s — and NATO’s — main defense against a missile attack from North Korea or Iran, assuming one ever comes.
According to the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency, the test involved a short-range target missile launched shortly after 8:00 p.m. Hawaiian time from the military’s Kauai-based Pacific Missile Range. The target missile then blasted out over the Pacific Ocean, where it was tracked by the Aegis cruiser U.S.S Lake Erie, and then destroyed in mid-flight with a “kinetic” interceptor launched from the ship, “using only the force of a direct impact,” the Pentagon’s statement read. That means the test missile was brought down by blunt-force trauma — termed “hit to kill” — by the interceptor.
“The [interceptor] does not have a warhead. It’s a kill vehicle, and it maneuvers into the path of the threat, and the threat is destroyed by the kinetic energy of the impact,” Wes Kremer, vice president of Air and Missile Defense Systems for Raytheon, told Danger Room. “So there’s no warhead, it can’t be a near miss, and then it blows up; so it’s literally a skin-to-skin contact between the kill vehicle and the target.”