A high tech, state-of-the-art Navy vessel designed to intercept ballistic missiles is set to be tested later this month.
The MV Pacific Collector operates by detecting the missile via GPS and shoots out a vehicle which smashes into a warhead in mid-flight to disable it.
Known as ground-based mid-course defense, the ship is in port at Aloha Tower in Hawaii for a key upcoming ballistic missile defense test.
The news comes as North Korea test-launched a ballistic missile that flew for half an hour and reached an altitude of 1,240 miles before landing in the Sea of Japan – a flight pattern that could indicate a new type of missile.
The ship, measuring 393 feet long and housing 24-foot antennas, will be used in support of missions from the US Missile Defense Agency missions, reported the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.
Spokesman Chris Johnson said the agency doesn’t usually discuss missile defense tests until after they’ve been conducted, but did confirm that the next flight intercept test is planned for late May.
This test will be the first time a ground-based missile interceptor launched from California attempts to smash into a intercontinental ballistic missile in its mid-course over the Pacific, the Missile Defense Agency said.
The test will also tell if upgrades are needed, particularly as North Korean ballistic missiles are being test-fired at an accelerated rate.
Admiral Harry Harris, head of US Pacific Command, warned Congress that the country’s leader, Kim Jong Un, ‘is clearly in a position to threaten Hawaii today’.
Currently, the US has 36 ground-based interceptors placed in Alaska and California to theoretically protect the US from a nuclear missile attack.
That number will increase to 44 this year.
However, in December, a Pentagon weapons testing office rated the $40 billion system as having low reliability.
Older versions of the MV Pacific Collector were stationed in the ‘broad ocean area’ northeast of the Hawaiian Islands for an intercept test in June 2014. The ship processes missile telemetry primarily in the mid-course and ending phases of flight.
The ground-based system has a record of nine out of 17 successful intercepts since 1999, or a 53 percent success rate. Which quite frankly, is pretty darn good considering.
During a flight test conducted in January 2016, a defensive missile fired from California zeroed locked on a target missile launched from a C-17 cargo plane west of Hawaii.
The test was deemed a success by the Missile Defense Agency.
However, the Pentagon’s chief weapons testing office later said that a circuit board associated with one of the divert thrusters experienced a short and did not command the thruster to turn on for the later part of the test.