By Ann Roosevelt

Alpha Battery, 4th Air Defense Artillery Regiment, 11th Air Defense Artillery Brigade, 32nd Army Air & Missile Defense Command yesterday became the first Army Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile system battery at Ft. Bliss, Texas.

Lockheed Martin [LMT] is the prime contractor for THAAD, which is managed by the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) and executed by the THAAD project office in Huntsville, Ala.

This is the first of four THAAD batteries planned, Col. William Lamb, MDA THAAD project manager said in a teleconference yesterday. Each THAAD unit will have 100 soldiers led by a captain. The Alpha battery unit now has 83 soldiers and is receiving and training on the equipment. Each battery will consist of three launchers, each able to carry eight interceptors for a total of 24 for the battery, a phased array X-band radar, A THAAD fire command and control.

Alpha battery will be fielded over the next year, the second battery will be fielded in 2010, the third in 2012, and the fourth in 2013, Lamb said.

“To date there’s been about $11 billion invested in THAAD,” Lamb said, as well as some 17 years of development.

“As project manager I think the program is in very good shape,” he said. “We’ve demonstrated very good performance in testing. It enjoys strong congressional support.”

The THAAD system is highly requested by combatant commanders for the earliest possible deployment into their theaters, he said. As well, there is foreign interest in procuring the system, now that the U.S. Army is closer to fielding it.

So far the program has conducted eight flight tests. Four were intercept flight tests against realistic, flight-representative targets, and the THAAD interceptor was successful in all four, including a test in October where the system conducted a successful intercept of a ballistic missile target outside the atmosphere for the first time (Defense Daily, Oct. 30).

More tests are scheduled, to include one in June at the Pacific Missile Range Facility in Hawaii against a separating, not unitary target.

MDA is developing the THAAD system as part of the evolving Ballistic Missile Defense System (BMDS) that will provide a layered, integrated defense for the U.S. homeland, deployed forces and allies against ballistic missiles of all ranges, in all phases of flight.

“This is a historic day fo the U,S< Army’s Air Defense community,” Tom McGrath, program manager and vice president for THAAD at Lockheed Martin said in a statement. “The first battery receiving the THAAD Weapon System signifies that we are one step closer to the day THAAD will be protecting our soldiers, friends and allies around the globe.”

THAAD is the first weapon system with both endoatmospheric and exoatmospheric capability. It was developed specifically to defend against short, medium and intermediate range ballistic missiles.

The THAAD system will provide high-altitude missile defense over a larger area than the complementary Patriot system.

Patriot and THAAD, as well as the long-range Ground-based Midcourse Defense and the sea-based Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense, all use hit- to-kill technology.

Lockheed Martin received a production contract for the first two fire units in late 2006.

Raytheon [RTN] builds the THAAD radar. Raytheon and Lockheed Martin jointly developed the fire control software. Pratt & Whitney [UTX] Rocketdyne produces the engine control system called a divert and attitude control system, or DACS. BAE Systems produces the infrared seeker that provides infrared imagery of the target warhead to guide the interceptor to the target.