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Pentagon: Live-fire missile defense test fails in Hawaii

Streaking over the moon and Pacific Ocean, the Minuteman III missile of Glory Trip GT-222 lights the sky launched by the Air Force 576th Flight Test Squadron at Vandenberg Air Force Base during an unarmed test launch that occurred at 12:02 a.m. from the base northwest of Santa Barbara. The missile, equipped with a single-test reentry vehicle, traveled to 700 miles above the Earth and 4,200 miles to a test range near the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands. (Al Seib/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

A live-fire missile defense test conducted early Wednesday in Hawaii was unsuccessful, Pentagon officials acknowledged Thursday.

“It did not meet our objectives,” said Dana White, a Pentagon spokeswoman. “But we learn something all the time with these tests. We learned something from this one, and we’ll continue to improve our capabilities.”

The missile was launched from the Pacific Missile Range Facility Barking Sands on the island of Kauai.

White said the Missile Defense Agency was probing test data to determine why the interceptor, known as a Standard Missile 3 Block IIA, did not hit its target.

MDA did not issue a statement about the test result, which the agency had typically done after similar missile tests in the past. White declined to answer questions at the Pentagon about why the failure was not immediately acknowledged, referring any such inquiries to MDA officials.

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MDA spokesman Mark Wright confirmed in a statement Wednesday only that the test had taken place.

“The Missile Defense Agency and U.S. Navy sailors manning the Aegis Ashore Missile Defense Test Complex conducted a live-fire missile flight test using a Standard-Missile 3 Block IIA missile launched from the Pacific Missile Range Facility, Kauai, Hawaii, Wednesday morning,” Wright said.

Citing unidentified Pentagon sources, CNN reported the status of the test had not been announced in part because of the “sensitivities surrounding North Korea’s participation in the upcoming Olympic games and continuing tensions with leader Kim Jong Un.”

Leaders of the divided Korean Peninsula commenced discussions in early January after a hiatus of several years during which Pyongyang stepped up its testing of intercontinental ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons.

The thaw in relations between the two countries led to an announcement that North Korean athletes would attend the Winter Olympics Feb. 9-25.

During a test in June, the United States fired the same missile from the USS John Paul Jones off the coast of Hawaii, but it failed to intercept its target, a medium-range ballistic missile.

In that instance, MDA issued a statement the day of the test announcing it had been unsuccessful.

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MDA announced successful tests of the missile in February and August last year.

The United States, South Korea and Japan all possess Aegis-equipped warships, and the missile-defense capability is seen as more essential as North Korea appears to be getting closer to perfecting its nuclear weapon and ICBM programs.

The U.S. ability to launch such missiles from land is part of the Pentagon’s effort to develop a missile-defense grid covering the Pacific.

In Hawaii last week, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told reporters that the way forward to a denuclearized Korean Peninsula would be led by diplomats, not the military. But any diplomacy is “backed up with military options available to ensure that our diplomats are understood to be speaking from a position of strength.”

Kim has at times identified Hawaii as a potential target of his regime’s missiles should hostilities begin.

Hawaii officials have taken the threat seriously. In December, the state reinstituted monthly testing of a Cold War-era missile-alert siren.

Stars and Stripes reporter Corey Dickstein contributed to this story.

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© 2018 the Stars and Stripes

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.