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Missile misses target, officials call it a success

A developmental missile for the Aegis program is launched from the USS Lake Erie.
A developmental missile for the Aegis program is launched from the USS Lake Erie.

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(CNN) -- The Missile Defense Agency conducted a missile defense test over Hawaii Wednesday, and while the warhead did not strike the target, officials said they still considered the exercise a success.

"I wouldn't call it a failed test, because the intercept was not the primary objective," said Chris Taylor, a spokesman for the MDA. "It's still considered a success in that we gained great engineering data. We just don't know why it didn't hit."

At 1:15 p.m. (7:15 p.m. ET), a target was launched from the Pacific Missile Range Facility on the Hawaiian island of Kauai, Taylor said. About two minutes later, a standard missile-3 (SM-3), the developmental missile for the Aegis program, was launched from the USS Lake Erie, about 160 nautical miles off the coast of Kauai, he said.

"All of the stages separated and the kinetic warhead tracked the target, but did not intercept the target," Taylor said.

Three previous flight tests were successful, Taylor said, but they used an earlier version of a system to control the warhead's aim and maneuvering. Information from the earlier tests was used for a new design of the system, which was used in Wednesday's test, the Defense Department said.

Taylor said part of the missile's navigation and guidance control did not work in the test, but "we obviously don't know exactly what went wrong."

The MDA and the Navy manage the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense Program, and Raytheon Missile Systems is the prime contractor for the SM-3 missile, the Defense Department said.

The MDA program came under scrutiny earlier this month from two Democratic senators who said the agency is in danger of getting off track, and its efforts impaired, because of President Bush's order for the Pentagon to begin fielding a missile defense capability by 2004.

Sens. Carl Levin, D-Michigan, and Jack Reed, D-Rhode Island, examined a General Accounting Office report that showed the MDA was starting system integration with "immature technology and limited testing."

Levin said the report showed that the administration's planned missile defense system will not be fully tested or proven to work under realistic conditions.

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