By AUDREY McAVOY
HONOLULU — The U.S. military intercepted a medium-range ballistic missile in space over the Pacific Ocean using the most advanced interceptor being developed for launch from a ship, the Defense Department said Friday.
The military fired the target from the Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kauai late Thursday.
The USS Lake Erie used radar to track the target and then launched a new interceptor under development to destroy it.
The new interceptor — called SM-3 Block 1B — has a more sophisticated ability to seek out and destroy targets than the one now deployed on Navy ships. The current one in use is called the SM-3 Block 1A.
The SM-3 interceptors destroy incoming ballistic missile targets by colliding with them, something defense contractor Raytheon Co. described as akin to “hitting a bullet with a bullet.”
The only explosion is generated by the impact of the two objects hitting each other.
Heather Uberuaga, a Raytheon spokeswoman, said the test was the fifth successful back-to-back flight test for the Block 1B version of the interceptor. It’s now ready to go into production if and when the government gives the word, she said.
The interceptor has been scheduled to be deployed by the Navy in 2015.
The missile was on track to intercept its target at the highest altitude of any test to date, but data from the test indicated it didn’t exceed an altitude record marked during the previous test on Sept. 18, Uberuaga said.
Thursday’s test also exercised the latest version of the sea-based weapons system that tracks missile threats using sensors in space, on land and at sea.
The second-generation Aegis BMD Weapon System used in the test is capable of engaging longer range and more sophisticated ballistic missiles, the Defense Department said in a statement.
The Navy and the Missile Defense Agency jointly manage the Aegis BMD program.