By Jim Wolf
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. military said it had successfully completed its "most challenging" missile intercept test yet, using Lockheed Martin Corp and Raytheon Co hardware to shoot down an intermediate-range ballistic target over the Pacific.
The test, which took place Friday west of Hawaii, validated the capability of the first phase of President Barack Obama's revamped approach to defending Europe and U.S. forces deployed there, the Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency, or MDA, said in a statement.
The Obama administration is racing this year to complete the initial phase of a layered, multibillion-dollar antimissile bulwark in Europe. U.S. officials describe it as a hedge against missiles that could be fired by Iran and perhaps tipped with chemical, biological or nuclear warheads.
Obama's so-called Phased Adaptive Approach is also designed to boost defenses against North Korea, another focus of U.S. antimissile efforts, and ultimately to add to the existing ground-based defenses of U.S. soil as the technology improves.
The event was "the most challenging test to date," marking the first intercept of a shipboard Aegis combat system built by Lockheed against a target with a range greater than 3,000 kilometers (1,864 miles), the MDA said.
In addition, it was the first such Aegis test to rely on missile tracking data gathered by another, remote, radar station, the MDA said.
"The ability to use remote radar data to engage a ballistic missile threat greatly increases the battle space and defended area of the SM-3 missile" built by Raytheon and used to destroy the target, the statement said.
"This successful test demonstrated the capability of the first phase of the European Phased Adaptive Approach announced by the president in September, 2009," MDA said.
In the test, an intermediate-range ballistic missile target was launched in a northeasterly direction from Kwajalein Atoll in the Republic of the Marshall Islands, roughly 2,300 miles southwest of Hawaii.
A Raytheon-built, forward-based AN/TPY-2 X-band transportable radar, located on Wake Island, detected and tracked the threat missile, MDA said.
The radar sent trajectory information to a battle management system that processed and transmitted cues to the destroyer O'KANE. The ship used the data to aim and launch Raytheon's SM-3 Block IA missile 11 minutes after the target was launched, MDA said.
"Initial indications are that all components performed as designed," it said.
(Editing by Bill Trott)