WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The US Aegis missile defence system on Thursday destroyed two cruise missile targets and one ballistic missile target nearly simultaneously in a test conducted by a US Navy destroyer off the coast of Hawaii, the US Missile Defence Agency said.
The test, which took place just after noon Hawaii time 0100 GMT, validated a new upgrade of the Aegis missile defence system built by Lockheed Martin, and two different missiles built by Raytheon, the agency said.
The successful test comes amid ongoing tensions between the United States and Russia over Russia's annexation of the Crimea region of Ukraine earlier this year.
The upgrade tested on Thursday is due to be installed on US Navy Aegis destroyers, and will be part of the "Aegis Ashore" system that will become operational in Romania next year, providing parts of Europe a defence against potential ballistic missile attacks.
The test involved the USS John Paul Jones, a Navy destroyer, the Missile Defence Agency and US Pacific Command.
During the test, a Raytheon Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) Block IB guided missile successfully intercepted a short-range ballistic missile target, while two low-flying cruise missile targets were engaged at nearly the same time by Raytheon's SM-2 Block IIIA guided missiles, the agency said.
It was the first live-fire test in which the Aegis system engaged a ballistic missile target and several cruise missile targets at the same time.
Mr Riki Ellison, founder of the non-profit Missile Defence Advocacy Alliance, said the test marked a significant increase in the US military's ability to defend against multiple threats, and would allow huge cost-savings in the future.
"This long-awaited capability will exponentially increase our air and missile-defence capabilities, allowing Navy ships to defend themselves against incoming cruise missiles while simultaneously tracking and defeating ballistic missiles threatening other areas," Mr Ellison said.
He said it would eliminate the need for US Aegis destroyers to have backup defences or "shotgun" ships as protection while providing ballistic missile defence. Raytheon said the test demonstrated the capability of its missile technology.
"This test showcases the US ability to defend against numerous ballistic and cruise missile threats in 'raid' scenarios," said Mr Taylor Lawrence, president of Raytheon Missile Systems.