WASHINGTON - The US military on Tuesday conducted its first operational test of Lockheed Martin Corp's THAAD missile defence system paired with the ship-based Aegis system, intercepting two medium-range ballistic missiles fired nearly simultaneously.
The test was conducted early Tuesday near the US Army Kwajalein Atoll test site and surrounding areas in the western Pacific, according to a Pentagon statement.
Missile defence experts said the test was important because it demonstrated the ability of the US military to defend against possible regional ballistic missile threats from countries like Iran or North Korea or even accidental releases.
Vice Admiral James Syring, who heads the US Missile Defence Agency, told Reuters that launch crews had been waiting for nearly a month for the tests but were not given any specific details on when the missiles would be fired or from where.
"It was all no-notice, unscripted in terms of what they saw," he said. "The sailors, soldiers and airmen who operated those systems just performed flawlessly, which gives me great confidence in our capability."
Rick Lehner, spokesman for the US Missile Defence Agency, said Lockheed's Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) system had been successfully tested 10 times, but this was the first operational test of that system and its ability to work together with the Aegis system on the USS Decatur, a guided-missile destroyer in the region.
The US Defence Department said the flight test was planned more than a year ago and was not connected to events in the Middle East, where the United States is weighing a limited strike on Syria over its use of chemical weapons.
Earlier this year, after North Korea threatened to launch a nuclear attack on the United States, the Pentagon moved two Aegis guided-missile destroyers to the western Pacific and a THAAD system to Guam.
Riki Ellison, chairman and founder of the nonprofit group Missile Defence Advocacy Alliance, called the test a "tremendous achievement" and said it demonstrated the layered capabilities of the US Ballistic Missile Defence System.