WASHINGTON — Shrouded in North Atlantic mist, a US destroyer on Tuesday carried out the first live intercept of a ballistic missile target in Europe, as part of an integrated air and missile defense demonstration that included ships, aircraft and personnel from nine nations.

The guided-missile destroyer Ross launched an SM-3 Block IA guided interceptor missile at a short-range Terrier Orion ballistic missile target launched on the UK's Hebrides Range, northwest of Scotland, according to the US Navy. The exo-atmospheric engagement took place simultaneously with the launch of two anti-ship cruise missiles fired at the coalition task group. The destroyer The Sullivans, in the air defense role, launched SM-2 missiles to engage the inbound cruise missiles.

On the scene were frigates and destroyers from six nations, including Canada, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway and Spain, along with the US. The UK and US provided aircraft, and Germany added personnel to the combined task-group staff. The partner frigates also used Aster-30 missiles in the exercise.

The Dutch frigate De Zeven Provincien and Spanish frigate Almirante Juan de Borbón Blas de Lezo tracked the target and provided cueing information to the Ross. Ships from both classes previously have travelled to Hawaii to participate in similar ballistic missile defense tests on the Pacific Missile Test facility at Kauai.

The test was carried out under the Maritime Theater Missile Defense Forum, an entity established in 1999 that includes Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, the UK and the US.

In a statement, Adm. Mark Ferguson, commander of US Naval Forces Europe-Africa, said that "the execution of the live-fire exercise is a clear demonstration of the forum's ability to safely conduct effective coalition sea-based defense against simultaneous anti-ship and ballistic missile threats within an operational scenario."

The exercise, he said added, "demonstrates the commitment of the United States to the defense of Europe through our Aegis ships and our shore station in Romania, as well as the professional performance of our allied sailors."

The Ross is one of four US BMD-capable destroyers forward deployed to Rota, Spain. The Sullivans is a Florida-based ship on deployment to the US Sixth Fleet.

The US has been expanding its BMD coverage in Europe both afloat and ashore. The Aegis Ashore installation at Deveselu, Romania, based on the configuration of a US Navy cruiser, is expected to become operational later this year, armed with SM-3 Block IB missiles to provide ballistic missile coverage of southern Europe, according to the US Missile Defense Agency. The installation is part of a US European BMD strategy called the Phased Adaptive Approach (PAA) Phase II. A similar installation in Poland is expected to become operational in 2018 as part of PAA Phase III, armed with SM-3 Block IB and IIA missiles to support the defense of northern Europe.

The test carried out Tuesday, according to the US Navy, marked a number of first-time events, according to the US Navy, including:

  • The first intercept of a ballistic missile target in the European theater.
  • First SM-3 fired on a non-US range.
  • The first firing of an SM-2 and SM-3 on the Hebrides Range.
  • First use of multi-national beyond-line-of-sight link architecture for integrated air and missile defense (IAMD) purposes in the European theater.
  • The first international ship (Netherlands and Spain) transmissions of BMD cues to a US BMD destroyer.
  • The first time coalition IAMD was used in a scenario with simultaneous attack from anti-ship cruise and ballistic missiles.

The US Navy noted said that in addition to the Forum nations, personnel from Denmark and Japan watched the missile intercept from on board the Sixth Fleet flagship Mount Whitney.