HONOLULU (AP) – A Navy ship on Thursday intercepted a medium-range missile warhead above the earth’s atmosphere off Hawaii in the latest test of the U.S. missile defense program, the military said.

The Missile Defense Agency said the test had been scheduled for months and was not prompted by indications that North Korea was planning to test launch a long-range missile.

The USS Shiloh detected a medium-range missile after it was launched from the Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kauai, then fired a Standard Missile-3 interceptor.

The interceptor shot down the target warhead after it separated from its rocket booster, more than 100 miles above the Pacific Ocean and 250 miles northwest of Kauai, the agency said in a statement.

The test marked the seventh time in eight attempts the military has successfully shot down a missile target with an interceptor fired from a ship.

It also was the second successful attempt by a ship to shoot down a separating target. Medium- and long-range ballistic missiles typically have at least two stages, increasing the challenge for interceptors, which must distinguish between the body of the missile and the warhead.

The military had initially scheduled the test for Wednesday but postponed the drill after a small watercraft ventured into a zone that had been blocked off for the event.

In a first, a Japanese ship took part in the missile test. The Kirishima, a cruiser, practiced tracking the target.

Japan agreed to jointly develop missile defense technology with the U.S. late last year, broadening an earlier bilateral research pact. Tokyo became interested in acquiring and developing missile defense technology after the last North Korean ballistic missile defense test, in 1998, when Pyongyang fired a missile over Japan’s main island.


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