TOKYO — A Japanese destroyer thwarted a simulated missile attack against Japan on Thursday – practice for the real-world threat posed by North Korea.
From its position off the coast of Hawaii, the JS Kirishima intercepted the target missile 100 miles over the Pacific Ocean, according to the Missile Defense Agency.
The test illustrated the effectiveness of the U.S.-Japan missile defense system, established in the wake of North Korea’s 1998 Taepodong-1 ballistic missile test. Launched from the U.S. Pacific Missile Range Facility at Barking Sands in Kauai, the target missile was not designed to mimic the flight path of a North Korean attack but rather a “general threat,” said MDA spokesman Ralph Scott.
The exercise proved Japan’s ability not only to shoot down a medium-range missile using the SM-3 Block IA missile – the sea-based component of U.S.-Japan missile shield – but also to detect and track such a warhead.
The USS Lake Eerie and USS Russell – outfitted with similar Aegis missile defense systems – also participated in the exercise. Those ships detected, tracked and conducted a simulated intercept against the same target the Kirishima took down, according to the MDA.
It was a “significant milestone in the growing cooperation between Japan and the U.S. in the area of missile defense,” an MDA news release said.
The Kirishima test was the fourth and final assessment of the missile defense upgrades made to four Aegis destroyers in Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force’s fleet, Scott said. Two of the other three tests since 2007 with the Japanese destroyers were successful. However, the SM-3 fired by the JS Chokai during a test in 2008 failed to intercept the target. The Japanese Ministry of Defense said Friday that the 2008 failure was due to “trouble” with the kinetic warhead, and said the rest of the system functioned normally.
The United States and Japan are jointly developing the radar and interceptor systems for the missile defense program with plans to further integrate their operating platforms and their respective military forces that run it. The Japanese Air Defense Command, in fact, is being relocated to U.S. Forces Japan headquarters at Yokota Air Base in western Tokyo.
The countries are now working to build a faster, more accurate, longer-range version of the SM-3, with the U.S. committing $1.6 billion to its development over the next six years, MDA spokesman Richard Lehner said Friday.
The recent test could help deter Pyongyang from ramping up its missile testing to offset perceived weaknesses associated with an impending change in leadership there, experts said. It also exemplifies America’s reach in Asia as China’s rising military power continues to raise tensions in the region.
“It demonstrates to China that North Korea’s actions and behavior are pushing the U.S. closer to its allies and bringing capabilities to the region that China wish weren’t there,” said Abraham Denmark, a fellow at the Center For a New American Security and a former Asia policy adviser with the Obama administration.
However, the program is squarely focused on North Korea, he said.
“It shows North Korea that the U.S. will help defend Japan and that the alliance has the technology to defend against their attack,” he said.
The latest missile defense test was “just as politically significant as it is technologically significant” for the U.S.-Japan security alliance, proving it “remains strong and is growing more robust,” Denmark said.
Reporter Chiyomi Sumida contributed to this report.