TROY, Ala. – Reporters last week got the first ever glimpse inside the facility that builds and assembles the Lockheed Martin [LMT]  Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) interceptors while the campus is adding new buildings and capability.

The company has built over 450 THAAD interceptors at the THAAD manufacturing, final assembly, and test facility here since work began in 2007. The company devotes 63,000 square feet to buildings manufacturing THAAD missiles, alone.

A THAAD interceptor is launched from Kodiak, Alaska during Flight Experiment THAAD (FET)-01 on July 30, 2017. (Photo: Missile Defense Agency)

The Troy site, called the Pike County Operations facility, is adding about 200,000 square feet of new building space over the next year alone to be used in various manufacturing programs. That includes adding 25,000 square feet of building space for THAAD work.

The THAAD assembly building alone is scheduled to get a 25,000 square foot expansion in the coming years as interest in the program increases.

Jason Crager, Pike County Operations site director, said the people putting together the interceptors at this facility are the last to see them before the missiles are sent to theater.

“No other media have been back here in the manufacturing area,” Crager said. He noted few people in the world can say they stood beside a THAAD missile.

The site also builds the Javelin, the Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile (JASSM), and the Long Range Anti-Ship Missiles (LRASM) in 49 buildings stretched across nearly 4,000 acres.

While on a tour of the site, reporters noticed a mysterious 11-story 160,000 square foot test chamber building. Lockheed Martin officials said it is scheduled to finish construction in December and then start work in February, but would not disclose what kind of testing or for what weapons it is for.

The THAAD building, like most of the buildings on the campus, is fairly unremarkable from the outside, except the employee break room is in a separate building by the employee parking lot. This configuration is a safety measure designed to prevent disruptive static discharges and other issues from affecting the sensitive production line.

Inside the final integration building, Lockheed Martin takes parts from other facilities and subcontractors, conducts functional testing, and starts to put the pieces together on a relatively quiet production line.

First, at the boost motor assembly station, employees bind communication cabling from the front kill vehicle portion to the large booster section.

A Terminal Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system battery is offloaded in Israel before participating in an exercise between the U.S. and Israeli military forces. (Photo: U.S. Army)
A Terminal Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system battery is offloaded in Israel before participating in an exercise between the U.S. and Israeli military forces. (Photo: U.S. Army)

Next, the company conducts a “soft-mate” of the avionics in the lower-mid body section to the booster and propulsion assembly. The company calls the avionics “the brains” of the missile.

The production line connects these parts and conducts one of numerous tests to come before assembly is complete.

The line next connects the upper-mid body, which is the kill vehicle featuring the BAE Systems-built seeker. The kill vehicle is steered by several nozzles in the Divert and Attitude Control Systems (DACS), which operates similarly to how satellites are adjusted in orbit.

The last part of construction involves the hard-mate and bolting together of the upper portion kill vehicle to the lower booster rocket. At this stage, the company adds a shroud to the seeker and kill vehicle that protects it in launch.

In operation, once the rocket reaches the right height, the shroud is released in two pieces and the seeker uses its electronic “eyes” to find and hit its target.

Once the components are hard-mated, the missile goes in to the test chamber and powers up again for another round of tests, called the pre-missile round test. Then the company adds a silicon ablative material to further insulate and protect the kill vehicle.

Last, the company loads the completed THAAD missile into a cannister launch tube, wrenched inside while riding along a rail.

After loading the cannister, the line covers the front, purges it of moisture, adds desiccants, and checks sensors for any humidity or fuel leaks. The missile gets one last round in the test chamber for a powerup and test before the missile and tube are loaded into a heavy single missile round transport container and sent to the customer.

The empty containers weigh over 10,800 pounds alone, while a fully loaded container weighs about 12,500 pounds. The interceptor weighs about 2,700 pounds.

Two THAAD interceptors in their containers are moved per transport vehicle, fitting in one shipping container.

Officials said from start to finish, assembly in the building takes about six weeks.

While Lockheed Martin officials would not disclose the THAAD monthly production rate or how much capacity they have to increase, they admitted the production line works on a 10-hour, four-day work week, which allows an extra day of surge capacity, if necessary.

Branda Davidson, director of the company’s missiles and fire control unit, would not disclose any additional upcoming international customers but said they are preparing for a 50 percent increase in THAAD production.