WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A Japanese naval destroyer fitted with a Lockheed Martin Corp Aegis ballistic missile defense system is set to carry out a flight-intercept test Thursday in cooperation with U.S. forces, the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency said.
The test, in Hawaiian waters, will focus attention on growing U.S. missile-defense cooperation with Japan even as Washington urges its NATO allies to join in a NATO-wide shield prompted largely by concerns over Iran.
Missile defense is a multibillion-dollar business for Pentagon contractors such as Lockheed Martin, Boeing Co, Northrop Grumman Corp, Raytheon Co and Orbital Sciences Corp.
The Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force ship, the JS Kirishima, is the fourth of six Japanese Aegis destroyers to receive a U.S. ballistic missile defense, or BMD, upgrade amid concerns about North Korea’s growing missile capabilities.
The test off the coast of Kauai in Hawaii is designed to show Japan’s ability to use a Raytheon SM-3 Block IA missile against a separating, medium-range ballistic missile target, the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency said.
It will also verify “the ability of the Japan Aegis BMD system to monitor and report ballistic missile track information and assess the ability of the Japan Aegis BMD system to plan a BMD mission in tactical situations,” the agency said.
“It is not country-specific,” Richard Lehner, an agency spokesman, added in reply to a question about whether the target would mimic in any way the flight path of a potential North Korean missile.
The test, unless delayed by poor weather, would take place a year to the day after the Myoko, the third such Aegis ballistic missile defense-equipped Japanese destroyer, successfully completed an intercept test about 100 miles above the Pacific off Kauai.
Japan’s interest in missile shields, and in cooperating with the United States on the issue, jumped in August 1998 when North Korea test-fired a Taepo Dong-1 ballistic missile that flew over Japan before falling in the Pacific.
Japan is also cooperating with the United States on development of a larger and more capable interceptor missile called the SM-3 Block 2A, for possible deployment around 2018.
The 28-country NATO alliance is due to decide at a Nov. 19-20 summit in Lisbon whether to make missile defense a formal part of its mission. If so, European countries could plug existing battlefield missile defenses into a wider shield that the Obama administration is building, chiefly as a hedge against Iran’s nuclear fuel and ballistic missile programs.
Editing by Gary Hill