US missile defense tests have a checkered history, as despite giving the interceptor full data on the size and trajectory, and often firing both from the same vessel, sometimes they just aren’t able to blow up the dummy target.
Last month’s failure by the US Navy in the SM-3 Block IIA test was a particularly embarrassing failure, with the USS John Paul Jones firing both the test missile and the interceptor, and not managing to get the two to meet in the air. Officials are now blaming this on a single, unnamed sailor.
Officials have said from the start the interceptor was tracking the target successfully. They now say the sailor pressed “the wrong button” and the interceptor identified the test target as friendly, self-destructing before it could collide.
That’s probably a problem they wouldn’t have in a real-life situation, where they wouldn’t have all the trajectory and other information on the target in the first place. At the same time, not having all of that information would make any shootdown wildly more difficult than the tests, raising serious doubts about the system’s practical value.
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