By Andrea Shalal
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Aegis missile defense system on Thursday destroyed two cruise missile targets and one ballistic missile target nearly simultaneously in a test conducted by a U.S. Navy destroyer off the coast of Hawaii, the U.S. Missile Defense Agency said.
The test, which took place just after noon Hawaii time/0100 GMT, validated a new upgrade of the Aegis missile defense system built by Lockheed Martin Corp, and two different missiles built by Raytheon Co, the agency said.
The successful test comes amid ongoing tensions between the United States and Russia over Russia's annexation of the Crimea region of Ukraine earlier this year.
The new capability tested Thursday is due to be installed on U.S. Navy Aegis destroyers, and will be part of the "Aegis Ashore" system that will become operational in Romania next year, providing parts of Europe a defense against potential ballistic missile attacks.
The test involved the USS John Paul Jones, a Navy destroyer, the Missile Defense Agency (MDA), and U.S. Pacific Command. It also included sensors flown on two MQ-9 Reaper unmanned planes built by privately held General Atomics, the agency said.
During the test, a Raytheon Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) Block IB guided missile successfully intercepted a short-range ballistic missile target, while two low-flying cruise missile targets were engaged at nearly the same time by Raytheon's SM-2 Block IIIA guided missiles, the agency said.
It was the first live-fire test in which the Aegis system engaged a ballistic missile target and several cruise missile targets at the same time. MDA said the test marked the 29th successful intercept in 35 attempted flight tests of the Aegis system since 2002.
Riki Ellison, founder of the nonprofit Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance, said the test of the Baseline 9 upgrade for Aegis would boost the U.S. military's ability to defend against multiple threats, and save money in the future.
"This long-awaited capability will exponentially increase our air and missile-defense capabilities, allowing Navy ships to defend themselves against incoming cruise missiles while simultaneously tracking and defeating ballistic missiles threatening other areas," Ellison said.
He said it would eliminate the need for U.S. Aegis destroyers to have backup defenses or "shotgun" ships as protection while providing ballistic missile defense.
Raytheon said the test demonstrated the capability of its missile technology.
"This test showcases the U.S.’s ability to defend against numerous ballistic and cruise missile threats in ‘raid’ scenarios," said Taylor Lawrence, president of Raytheon Missile Systems.
Lockheed spokesman Keith Little said the test addressed the complex potential threats facing the U.S. military today.
"These successful engagements demonstrated the extraordinary capabilities of Aegis BMD and Baseline 9 and the readiness of our sailors aboard the USS John Paul Jones, to continue to defend our nation in the air, on land and at sea,” he said.
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Ken Wills)