The Pentagon showed it can shoot down enemy missiles from the sea with a successful test of an interceptor launched from a destroyer.
The Nov. 16 test in the Pacific Ocean saw the USS John Finn launch a type of missile once used to shoot down enemy planes to strike an intercontinental ballistic missile fired from Kwajalein Atoll. It was a public demonstration of a capability the Navy has long claimed and its a signal to American rivals that their nuclear missiles and new weapons aimed at taking out American aircraft carriers may be outdated.
"This was an incredible accomplishment and critical milestone," Vice Adm. Jon Hill, who heads the Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency, said in a statement.
The Navy test required help from troops in Colorado. The satellites and radars used to spot missile launches and track their flight are controlled at Buckley, Schriever and Peterson Air Force bases.
The Missile Defense Agency also runs its testing operations out of Schriever's Missile Defense Integration and Operations Center.
The Navy's latest version of the Standard Missile is a further development of a weapon that was used to shoot down an aging American satellite in low orbit more than a decade ago.
By showing it can deal with ballistic missiles, the Pentagon has shown that it has more in its anti-missile arsenal than the Alaska-based interceptors controlled by the National Guard's 100th Missile Defense Brigade in Colorado Springs.
And that new capability can be loaded aboard any one of the 68 Burke-class destroyers now in Navy service. That means the military has a mobile missile defense that can be used to defend allies in Europe and Asia along with the fixed defenses that protect North America.
"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," Hill explained.
The missile defense test is likely to draw scrutiny from several rival nations.
China has long touted its ballistic missiles designed to target carriers. Because those carriers are accompanied by destroyers, China's missile investment could come up empty.
Iran has missiles that can strike targets as far away as Europe. With U.S. destroyers in the Persian Gulf and the Mediterranean Sea, that threat is vastly reduced.
And while America had a ground-based shield against North Korean missiles, allies including South Korea and Japan remained under threat. The Pacific Fleet can now provide an umbrella of safety.
"This first-of-its-kind test shows that our nation has a viable option for a new layer of defense against long-range threats," Bryan Rosselli, who heads the program that built the missile at Raytheon, said in a statement.
It also means the U.S. can field more defensive missiles on land.
If you can launch a missile from a destroyer, any decent- sized parking lot can house it on land.
Hill called the test "a step in the process of determining its feasibility as part of an architecture for layered defense of the homeland."