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The U.S. Navy on Wednesday completed an unprecedented simulated ballistic missile exercise between ships operating in different bodies of water, Navy officials said.

The five-day exercise, which started Saturday, tested the Ballistic Missile Defense capabilities between the USS Russell, sailing in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, and the USS Benfold, now in the northern Persian Gulf.

"This cooperation … represents the latest in an ongoing series of defensive exercises intended to provide increased security," Vice Adm. Kevin Cosgriff, commander of 5th Fleet, said in a statement.

The exercise differed from recent ballistic missile tests in that it was a simulated shoot-down, and focused on communication capabilities between 5th Fleet and 6th Fleet leaders, officials said.

In early June, the U.S. military intercepted a ballistic missile in the first such sea-based test since a Navy cruiser shot down an errant satellite earlier this year, according to The Associated Press.

The military fired the target, a Scudlike missile with a range of a few hundred miles, from a decommissioned amphibious assault ship near Hawaii’s island of Kauai.

In February, the USS Lake Erie shot down a U.S. spy satellite that had lost power and become uncontrollable. Military commanders worried the satellite would break up and spread debris over several hundred miles if it fell to Earth on its own.

The Navy and the Missile Defense Agency have already demonstrated that ships equipped with Aegis ballistic missile defense technology can intercept mid-range targets in midcourse of flight, the AP reported.

The exercise between the Navy’s 5th and 6th Fleet expanded on ships’ communication skills, and trained crews to pass information more quickly between the two, officials said.

"Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense is a key part of the future of the U.S. Navy," Vice Adm. Sandy Winnefeld, commander of 6th Fleet, said in a statement. "It is evolutionary and we are continuously seeking ways to improve our capabilities, in this instance across theaters."

By late 2008, 18 Aegis ships are scheduled to be equipped with BMD.


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