Tokyo (Japan) - Japan's navy successfully defended itself from a simulated ballistic missile attack last week. The JS Kongo, a destroyer for the country's Maritime Self-Defense Force, fired a medium-range SM-3 missile at another missile launched from an American naval base in Kauai. The incoming missile was hit and destroyed 60 miles above the Pacific Ocean.
The destroyer was using an Aegis radar system that had been specially upgraded to intercept ballistic missiles and Japan hopes to deploy four such ships in the Pacific Ocean in the coming years. This will augment 16 similar American warships that will also protect the same region. The United States and Japan are extremely concerned over continuing missile launches by North Korea. In fact, back in 1998 North Korea test fired a missile that flew over northern Japan.
Missile intercepts, especially against ballistic missiles, are tricky business because the missiles are flying in at extremely high speeds - often in excess of Mach 7. Many missiles also release decoys and split up into multiple warheads as they drop back towards Earth. The Japanese and American military gets around this problem by destroying the still-accelerating missiles in the boost phase as they are lifting off from their launch points.
The successful intercept caps a string of successes for the SM-3 missile and the Aegis radar. Back in November 7th, the Kongo also participated in the successful shootdown of two incoming missiles fired from the Barking Sands Missile Range. In that exercise, the USS Lake Erie destroyed both missiles 100 miles above the Pacific Ocean.