USS John Finn Tests SM-3 Block IIA to Intercept ICBM

A missile fired from a US Navy warship successfully intercepted an intercontinental ballistic missile for the first time Monday during a test of the American missile defense system.

The newly demonstrated capability could bolster the missile defense system against potential missile threats emanating from countries like North Korea.

USS John Finn. Source US Navy

US military personnel and sailors aboard the USS John Finn “intercepted and destroyed a threat-representative Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) target,” using the warship’s Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) Block IIA interceptor “during a flight test demonstration in the broad ocean area northeast of Hawaii,” the Missile Defense Agency said in a statement.

The test ICBM was fired from the US military’s test site on Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands before being intercepted northeast of Hawaii.

Previous tests of the missile defense system involved ground based interceptors in Alaska and California shooting down test ICBMs.

While North Korea temporarily ceased flight tests of longer-range ballistic missiles, Pyongyang has continued to develop land- and sea-based missiles. North Korea recently paraded its newest and largest ICBM to date. While the regime has not yet flight-tested the missile, dubbed the Hwasong-16 by analysts, Pyongyang has, or is developing, at least four platforms — the KN-08, the KN-14, the Hwasong-14 and the Hwasong-15 — that qualify as ICBMs.

With the newly unveiled Hwasong-16, the North Korean arsenal now boasts five missiles with ICBM-class ranges. Pyongyang could potentially use some of those missiles to target the United States.

A similar threat grows in Iran, whose cooperation with North Korea in the missile domain has been identified and punished by the U.S. government.

Officials say having the ability of a warship to also shoot down a missile threat adds to the overall missile defense system’s capability.

“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,” the Director of the Missile Defense Agency, Vice Admiral Jon Hill, said in a statement.

“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,” he added.

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