Holy Tripoli

Earlier this year, the USS Erie successfully shot down an errant satellite in a real-world mission.

And, later today, the ship and its sea-based missle defense system will get a chance to prove itself again:

The test, off Kauai, is the latest test of the military’s sea-based missile defenses, called the Aegis ballistic missile defense program.

The military will fire a Scud-like missile, which has a range of a few hundred miles, from a decommissioned amphibious assault ship, the USS Tripoli.

USS Lake Erie, a Pearl Harbor-based Navy cruiser, will fire two interceptor missiles at the target with the intention of shooting it down in its final seconds of flight.

If all goes well, the intercept should occur within the Earth’s atmosphere, or within 100 miles of the Earth’s surface.

The Aegis system accomplished a similar task once before: two years ago, the Lake Erie shot down a missile fired from the Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kauai in its final stage of flight.

In February, the ship successfully shot down a U.S. spy satellite in the Aegis’ system’s first real-world mission.

The satellite had lost power and become uncontrollable, creating worries it would break up and spread debris over several hundred miles if it fell to earth.

The Hawaii-based, Star Bulletin has more details.

The Navy said yesterday that on Tuesday the mission, named Stellar Scorpion, was blessed at the Barking Sands missile facility by "Uncle Tom" Takahashi, who named the Lake Erie’s two interceptor missiles "the crashing sound of the ocean" and "the ear of the earth," respectively.

Being a decommissioned helicopter-carrier, the USS Tripoli (photo above) seems like a pretty odd choice to be involved in this exercise. The "Semper Princeps" (Always First), as they call it, has been around since 1964, and decommissioned (but strangely still very active) since 1995:

She was decommissioned in 1995 and as of 2004, she was on loan to the Army, but remained laid up at Mare Island Naval Shipyard. In December 2006, the ship was towed to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, where it now has a high-tech role as a launch platform with the nation’s developing ballistic missile defense program. Three times the ship was towed some 100 miles off shore and used to launch small ballistic missiles, which are then intercepted by Terminal High Altitude Area Defense Missiles, test-fired from the Pacific Missile Range Facility. The last test in the series was performed October 26, when the ship fired a "scud-like" missile, which was successfully intercepted. The ship will be towed back to the San Francisco Bay Area for the winter. Kaua’i lacks a suitable land-based launch site, and the costs of building one would far exceed the approximately $600,000 per year it costs to use the old warship, so the vessel will return to Pearl Harbor for a second series of tests in late spring 2008.