As the State Department presses North Korea to give up its nuclear ambitions, one neighbor isn’t taking any chances. The Japanese military, working with the U.S. Navy, shot down a mock ballistic missile with one of their new Atago-class destroyers on Tuesday.
It was the first test of the upgraded SM-3 Block 1B TU interceptor missile, and followed four successful tests of Japan’s earlier Standard missile, which dominates their inventory. An official with the U.S. Missile Defense Agency, or MDA, said the ship had tracked the incoming ballistic missile — fired from the Pacific Missile Range Facility, at Barking Sands, Kauai, Hawaii — with its upgraded Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense, or BMD, system. Japan has seven ships with the Aegis BMD capability.
“This successful test is a major milestone verifying the capabilities of an upgraded Aegis BMD configuration for Japan’s destroyers,” MDA Director Lt. Gen. Sam Greaves said in a press release Wednesday. “This success provides confidence in the future capability for Japan to defeat the developing threats in the region…We are committed to assisting the Government of Japan in upgrading its national missile defense capability against emerging threats.”
The U.S. and Japan first shot down a test ballistic missile in the medium range (of the sort North Korea would use against Japan) with an Aegis-class destroyer using an SM3 IIA missile in February 2017. A second test in June 2017 failed; the Navy blamed human error. Another test of the SM3 IIA failed in January.
During North Korea’s most recent military parade, the regime left out long-range nuclear missiles, which President Trump highlighted as a sign of progress in U.S. efforts to pacify the regime. But experts warn that North Korea isn’t actual denuclearizing. RAND researcher Bruce W. Bennett told NBC News: “Since the beginning of 2018, Kim has surrendered and dismantled no nuclear weapons, but has likely built five to nine new nuclear weapons.”