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US intercepts ballistic missile in Hawaii test

By AUDREY McAVOY Associated Press Writer © 2009 The Associated Press

March 17, 2009, 10:41PM

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HONOLULU — The military's ground-based mobile missile defense system successfully shot down a medium-range ballistic missile during a test in Hawaii, the Missile Defense Agency said Tuesday.

It was the first time the military fired two interceptors at one target using the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system, a program designed to shoot down ballistic missiles in their last stage of flight.

The drill followed through on a test that was planned for last September but had to be aborted when the target malfunctioned shortly after launch.

On Tuesday, the target missile was fired from a vessel off the island of Kauai.

Soldiers with the Army's 6th Air Defense Artillery Brigade then launched two interceptors from the Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kauai's west coast.

Two interceptors were used to increase the chances of success. The first shot down the target over the Pacific Ocean. The second was destroyed.

"Any time you're in a combat situation, more than likely you will launch more than one interceptor in case one fails," said Missile Defense Agency spokesman Rick Lehner.

The target separated in flight, meaning the interceptors had to differentiate between the target missile's warhead and booster.

The military also has Patriot anti-missile batteries to intercept missiles just before they strike.

But the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system is designed to protect larger areas than the Patriot system because it intercepts targets at higher altitudes.

Even so, it can only target short and medium-range missiles. Intercontinental ballistic missiles are out of its range.

THAAD is one of two missile defense systems the military tests at the Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kauai. The other is the sea-based Aegis system. The Missile Defense Agency coordinates U.S. missile tests in cooperation with the Army, Navy and Air Force.

The artillery brigade is based in Fort Bliss, Texas.


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