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Video: US Navy shoots down ICBM target in space from sea for first time

A Standard Missile 3 fires from the USS John Finn DDG-113. (U.S. Missile Defense Agency/Released)
November 17, 2020

U.S. Navy sailors aboard the USS John Finn (DDG-113) intercepted and destroyed an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) target in space on Monday, marking the first time the U.S. has shot down an ICBM using a sea-based missile defense system.

In an emailed statement to American Military News,  the U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA) said the ICBM-representative target was launched from the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site and the USS John Finn, an Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) System-equipped destroyer fired a Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) Block IIA missile that destroyed the target. Raytheon, which manufactures the SM-3 Block IIA, said the ICM target was “intercepted and destroyed outside Earth’s atmosphere.”

MDA spokesman Mark Wright said the test represents the first time the agency has shot down an ICBM target missile from the sea and the first time the SM-3 Block IIA had been tested against an ICBM.

MDA released the following video from Monday’s missile test:

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The ICBM target missile launched from the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site, located on Kwajalein Atoll in the Republic of the Marshall Islands at around 7:50 p.m. Hawaii time on Monday. The missile flew toward an ocean area northeast of Hawaii. The Navy used its Command and Control Battle Management Communications (C2BMC) network to gather tracking data on the test ICBM’s flight and the USS John Finn launched an SM-3 Block IIA guided missile which destroyed the target.

“This was an incredible accomplishment and critical milestone for the Aegis BMD SM-3 Block IIA program,” said MDA Director, Vice Admiral Jon Hill. “The Department is investigating the possibility of augmenting the Ground-based Midcourse Defense system by fielding additional sensors and weapon systems to hedge against unexpected developments in the missile threat. We have demonstrated that an Aegis BMD-equipped vessel equipped with the SM-3 Block IIA missile can defeat an ICBM-class target, which is a step in the process of determining its feasibility as part of an architecture for layered defense of the homeland. My congratulations to the entire test team, including our military and industry partners, who helped us to achieve this milestone.”

Wright said the SM-3 Block IIA missile had originally only been developed to defend against shorter-range ballistic missiles, not ICBM-class weapons.

“The important thing is number one, that they were able to do it from a ship at sea, number two that [the SM-3 Block IIA missile] proved a capability beyond its original design parameters,” Wright said of the test. “It was designed for short, medium and intermediate-range missiles, but it has enough capability to it, that there was enough extra capability that we looked at it and said ‘it’s got a chance against an ICBM.'”

Wright said the SM-3 Block IIA missile is developed as a joint venture between the U.S. and Japan.

Monday’s test is the sixth flight test of an Aegis BMD-equipped vessel. According to the press statement, the Aegis BMD system serves as the naval component of the U.S. Missile Defense System. The Aegis system is designed to “track data via the C2BMC system, build the fire control solutions, then launch and guide the SM-3 family of missiles to destroy incoming threats.”