WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Missile Defense Agency announced on Tuesday that it had conducted the first operational test of Lockheed Martin Corp's THAAD missile defense system, intercepting two medium-range ballistic missiles that were fired nearly simultaneously.

The test was conducted near the U.S. Army Kwajalein Atoll test site and surrounding areas in the western Pacific, according to a statement released by the Pentagon.

Rick Lehner, spokesman for the Missile Defense Agency, said Lockheed's Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system had been successfully tested 10 times, but this was the first operational test of that system and its ability to work together with the Aegis system on the USS Decatur, a guided-missile destroyer in the region.

The Defense Department said the flight test was planned more than a year ago and was not connected to events in the Middle East, where the United States is weighing a limited strike on Syria over its use of chemical weapons.

Earlier this year, after North Korea threatened to launch a nuclear attack on the United States, the Pentagon moved two Aegis guided-missile destroyers to the western Pacific and a THAAD system to Guam.

Lehner declined comment when asked if there were plans to move the THAAD system to the Middle East.

In Tuesday's test, two medium-range ballistic missile targets were launched on operationally realistic trajectories towards a defended area near Kwajalein.

Those missiles were tracked using satellites and ground- and sea-based radars, which relayed that information to the destroyer, which used a Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) built by Raytheon Co to destroy one target, and to the THAAD system, which destroyed the second target missile.

The THAAD system also launched a second interceptor at the target destroyed by the ship-based Aegis system, in case that system missed its target, according to the Pentagon statement.

"The event ... demonstrated integrated, layered, regional missile defense capabilities to defeat a raid of two threat-representative medium-range ballistic missiles in a combined live-fire operational test," the Pentagon said in its statement.

It said U.S. Navy, Air Force and Army personnel from multiple combatant commands operated the systems, giving them "a unique opportunity to refine operational doctrine and tactics while increasing confidence in the execution of integrated air and missile defense plans."

(Reporting by Andrea Shalal-Esa; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

 

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