Lockheed Martin [LMT], which has been exploring a potential extended-range version of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system for years, is optimistic that the U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA) will soon decide to develop the new variant, according to a company official.
“We’re continuing to discuss THAAD-ER” with MDA, said Tim Cahill, vice president of air and missile defense at Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control. “I suspect that there will be decisions about THAAD-ER that will come … in months.”
While MDA says it currently has no formal requirement for a new THAAD variant, Cahill called THAAD-ER a “natural evolution of the system” to address new, more capable threats. Lockheed Martin has done significant internal research on the concept, which is “the right next step for many of the threats that are coming out across the world,” he told reporters Oct. 3 at an Association of the U.S. Army (AUSA) conference in Washington, D.C.
The existing THAAD, meanwhile, is slated to undergo its next intercept test in summer 2017, Cahill said. The system, which is designed to destroy short- and medium-range ballistic missiles in their terminal phase of flight, has achieved 13 intercepts in as many attempts. The testing has become more complex, such as by incorporating multiple and more sophisticated targets.
The Army, THAAD’s main customer, recently activated its sixth battery and has awarded a contract for a seventh. The Army plans to buy its eighth and ninth batteries and is working on the timing, Cahill said.
The United Arab Emirates, the first foreign buyer of THAAD, recently began fielding the system. Several other countries have shown interest in THAAD. “Not a week goes by that we’re not talking to people about THAAD, its capabilities, and describing what it might do for various countries,” Cahill said.
Lockheed Martin is also studying “foundational technologies” that could be used to improve THAAD, as well as the Army’s new PAC-3 Missile Segment Enhancement (MSE) interceptor. “We’re working them now,” he said. “They just haven’t been codified and packaged into a program yet for an evolution of those systems.”