US Missiles Destroy Airborne Target in Successful Defense Test (Video, Photos)

Missiles fired from a U.S. Navy ship intercepted an airborne target in a successful ballistic-missile defense test off the coast of Hawaii yesterday (Aug. 29), U.S. military officials said.

The target was a medium-range ballistic missile launched from the Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kauai, Hawaii. The Navy destroyer USS John Paul Jones detected the target with its onboard radar, then took it out with Standard Missile-6 (SM-6) guided missiles, military officials said.

"We are working closely with the fleet to develop this important new capability, and this was a key milestone in giving our Aegis BMD ships an enhanced capability to defeat ballistic missiles in their terminal phase," Lt. Gen. Sam Greaves, director of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency, said in a statement. (Aegis BMD is the naval component of the United States' Ballistic Missile Defense System.) [The Most Dangerous Space Weapons Ever]

A medium-range ballistic missile target is launched from the Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kauai, Hawaii, during a defense test on Aug. 29, 2017. The target was successfully intercepted by SM-6 missiles fired from the USS John Paul Jones. (Image credit: Missile Defense Agency)

"We will continue developing ballistic missile defense technologies to stay ahead of the threat as it evolves," Greaves added.     

One nation that may pose a threat is nuclear-armed North Korea, which has repeatedly stated a desire to destroy the United States, South Korea and Japan. North Korea has launched a number of missile tests recently, in violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions — including one flight yesterday that sent a vehicle over the Japanese island of Hokkaido. [How Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles Work (Infographic)]

A Standard Missile-6 (SM-6) guided missile is launched from the Navy destroyer USS John Paul Jones during a successful defense test on Aug. 29, 2017, that intercepted a medium-range ballistic missile target. (Image credit: Missile Defense Agency)

But yesterday's SM-6 test apparently wasn't a direct response to North Korea's most recent launch; the Hawaii operation had been planned for some time, according to The New York Times.

Yesterday's test marked the second time SM-6s have destroyed a target missile. The first success came during a December 2016 test off Hawaii, which also involved the USS John Paul Jones.

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Mike Wall
Senior Space Writer

Michael Wall is a Senior Space Writer with and joined the team in 2010. He primarily covers exoplanets, spaceflight and military space, but has been known to dabble in the space art beat. His book about the search for alien life, "Out There," was published on Nov. 13, 2018. Before becoming a science writer, Michael worked as a herpetologist and wildlife biologist. He has a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the University of Sydney, Australia, a bachelor's degree from the University of Arizona, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. To find out what his latest project is, you can follow Michael on Twitter.