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U.S. test of Aegis Ashore missile interceptor fails as Japan prepares to deploy system

Kyodo, Reuters, Staff Report

A U.S. military missile intercept test failed in Hawaii on Wednesday, potentially having implications for Japan as it moves forward with plans to introduce the costly Aegis Ashore system on its soil.

A Standard Missile-3 Block IIA was launched from Kauai Island in Hawaii using the Aegis Ashore technology — a land-based variant of the Aegis missile defense system — but it failed to hit a dummy projectile launched from an aircraft, a U.S. official said.

The test came after the United States approved a plan in early January to sell four SM-3 Block IIA missiles to Japan as the allies look to counter the rising missile and nuclear threat posed by North Korea. The missile is used to target intermediate range missiles.

The SM-3 Block IIA can be used on Aegis-equipped destroyers as well as with the Aegis Ashore system, which Japan decided in December to deploy. The U.S. Missile Defense Agency did not comment on the outcome of the test but confirmed that one had taken place.

In Tokyo, a Defense Ministry source said Japan needs to examine the test results on its own even though the system is being jointly developed with the United States.

“We have heard (the missile) failed. It is a very expensive system and it would be undesirable for the credibility of the missile to be hurt,” the source said.

It is unclear why the test failed and an analysis is under way, the official said.

The SM-3 Block IIA is an improved version of the SM-3 missile. Domestic officials say it is designed to be capable of intercepting a ballistic missile flying on a “lofted trajectory,” which falls toward a target at much higher speed than those fired on a normal trajectory.

Pyongyang has test-fired ballistic missiles on lofted trajectories into the sea around Japan multiple times, and officials said it would be very difficult for Japan’s current anti-missile defense systems to shoot them down if they were to threaten the country’s territory.

CNN reported that the Pentagon is not publicly acknowledging the failure of the test partly due to “sensitivities surrounding North Korea’s participation in the upcoming Olympic Games and continuing tensions with leader Kim Jong Un.”

The U.S. military also conducted an unsuccessful missile intercept test in June last year after carrying out a successful one the previous February.At present, Japan has a two-layer anti-ballistic missile system, consisting of Aegis destroyers carrying SM-3 missiles and ground-based PAC-3 batteries.

Tokyo now plans to upgrade its missiles and introduce the Aegis Ashore systems to beef up its defense capability and ease the burden on Maritime Self-Defense Forces personnel on Aegis destroyers.

Branding North Korea’s leadership as “depraved,” U.S. President Donald Trump told Americans on Tuesday that Pyongyang’s pursuit of nuclear missiles could “very soon threaten our homeland” and vowed a continued campaign of maximum pressure to keep that from happening.

In his first State of the Union speech to Congress, Trump’s tough rhetoric underscored persistent tensions despite recent talks between North and South Korea that led to Pyongyang’s agreement to participate in next month’s Winter Olympic Games in the South.