Japanese Military Successfully Tests Missile Defense System

HONOLULU --The Japanese military destroyed a midrange ballistic missile in space with an interceptor fired from a ship off Hawaii in a test Monday.

The U.S. military has conducted similar successful tests in the past, but it is the first time a U.S. ally has shot down a ballistic missile from a ship at sea.

The interceptor fired by the JS Kongo knocked out the target warhead about 160 kilometers above the Pacific Ocean, said the U.S. Missile Defense Agency, which carried out the test together with the Japanese and U.S. navies.

Tokyo has invested heavily in missile defense since North Korea test-fired a long-range missile over northern Japan in 1998. It has installed missile tracking technology on several navy ships and has plans to equip three with interceptors to add to the Kongo's newly demonstrated capability.

This missile has a shorter range than the Taepodong missile North Korea sent over Japan a decade ago. But North Korea is believed to have an arsenal of about 200 Rodongs, and Japanese defense experts say it represents the greatest threat to Japanese security.

Japan's top government spokesman Nobutaka Machimura hailed the test result.

"This is very significant for Japanese national security," Machimura said at a regular press briefing in Tokyo. "The Defense Ministry and the government have been putting efforts into the development of ballistic missile defense, and we will continue to install the needed equipment and conduct exercises."

Experts say the test will likely strengthen the U.S.-Japan defense alliance. The Missile Defense Agency called the test "a major milestone in the growing cooperation between Japan and the U.S."

But it may also deepen concerns in Beijing that Tokyo could use the technology to help the U.S. defend Taiwan if conflict erupted across the straits.