The Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) ballistic missile defense (BMD) system annihilated a target missile outside the atmosphere, the fourth winning intercept for THAAD and the 31st successful target kill out of 39 attempts since 2001 for several types of BMD systems.

THAAD scored its latest win against a Scud-type ballistic missile in the Pacific Missile Range Facility, the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) reported.

This target kill is just one more example of how the U.S. ballistic missile shield is progressing from an early-development series of systems with frequent failures – some critics and lawmakers predicted missile defense was an unworkable and unattainable pipe dream — to a working multi-pronged ballistic missile shield with consistent, consecutive successful target hits.

In the THAAD test, the MDA reported preliminary indications that planned flight test objectives were achieved.

The intercept involved the “exo-atmospheric” (outside earth’s atmosphere) “hit to kill” destruction of a unitary (non-separating) target that was launched from a mobile platform positioned off Kauai.

That interceptor was launched from the THAAD launch complex at the Pacific Missile Range Facility, and achieved the 31st intercept in 39 tests since 2001 by ground and sea- based interceptors against short, medium and long-range ballistic missile targets.

The primary objective of this test was to demonstrate integrated operations of the system, including radar, launcher, fire control equipment and procedures, and the interceptor to detect, track and destroy the target missile using only the force of a direct collision between the interceptor and the target missile, called hit to kill technology.

Other objectives included demonstrating performance of an interceptor that had been “hot conditioned,” or heated to a certain temperature before launching; and demonstrating the ability of the interceptor to perform correctly in the “endgame,” or final seconds before target intercept.

Hot conditioning demonstrates the interceptor’s ability to operate in extreme environments.

As well, the ability of Army personnel to conduct launcher, fire control and radar operations also was observed.

This was the fourth successful intercept for the current THAAD program in four tests and the third test of the THAAD system at Pacific Missile Range Facility, where the remainder of THAAD testing will be performed through 2009. The first test at the Pacific Missile Range Facility was a successful high-endoatmospheric (just inside the atmosphere) intercept of a SCUD-type unitary target in January.

The second test, in April, involved intercepting a “mid endo-atmospheric” (inside the atmosphere) unitary target representing a Scud type ballistic missile.

Soldiers of the 6th Air Defense Artillery Brigade stationed at Fort Bliss, Texas, operated all THAAD equipment during all tests, conducting operations of the launcher, fire control and communications and radar.

Their interaction with the complete THAAD system provided valuable test and operations experience for the soldiers, and contributed to operational realism of the tests, according to the MDA.

THAAD is the first weapon system with both endo-atmospheric and exo-atmospheric capability 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, and, like the Patriot, intercepts a ballistic missile target in the “terminal” phase of flight, the final minute or so when the hostile missile falls toward Earth at the end of its flight.

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.

Yet another missile defense shield, the Airborne Laser mounted in a giant Boeing 747-400 plane, will use a laser to fry electronics and incinerate any enemy ballistic missile in its most vulnerable phase of flight, the boost phase, shortly after it launches from a pad or silo.

The Ballistic Missile Defense System now in development and testing will be capable of providing a layered, integrated defense for the United State, its deployed forces, allies and friends against ballistic missiles of all ranges, in all phases of flight: boost, midcourse and terminal.

The higher-altitude and theater-wide protection offered by THAAD provides more protection of larger areas than lower-tier systems like Patriot alone. THAAD can be transported by air to wherever it is needed worldwide, and consists of radar, fire control unit, missile launchers, and interceptor missiles.

THAAD is managed by MDA in Washington and executed by the THAAD Project Office in Huntsville, Ala. Lockheed Martin Corp. [LMT] is the prime contractor.

“The THAAD Weapon System continues to prove its ability in both endo and exo-atmospheric environments,” said Tom McGrath, program manager and vice president for THAAD at Lockheed Martin. “That’s what makes this system so unique. No other missile defense system in the world can destroy tactical ballistic missiles outside and inside the Earth’s atmosphere. That flexibility provides greater protection for our warfighters and our allies.”

Since November 2005 the THAAD Weapon System program has conducted seven successful flight tests including four tests involving the successful intercept of threat representative targets:

  • November 2005 – Successful missile-only flight test
  • May 2006 – Successful integration of the entire THAAD Weapon System including launcher, interceptor, radar and fire control system
  • July 2006 – Successful seeker characterization flight test including first target intercept
  • September 2006 – Mission designated a ‘no-test’ when the HERA target malfunctioned and was destroyed by White Sands Missile Range — Range Safety before the interceptor was launched; THAAD ground data was acquired
  • January 2007 – Successful high endo-atmospheric intercept of a unitary target in the first THAAD flight test at the Pacific range.
  • April 2007 – Successful intercept of a unitary target at lower altitude
  • June 2007 – Successful missile-only flight test in low endo-atmosphere
  • October 2007 – Successful intercept of a unitary target outside the atmosphere.

A production contract for the first two fire units was awarded to Lockheed Martin late last year.

Also, the THAAD program recently announced production of the THAAD launcher and fire control and communications unit will take place at a Lockheed Martin factory in Camden, Ark.

Interceptors are produced at the Lockheed Pike County Facility in Troy, Ala. Deliveries will support a First Unit Equipped in the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2009.

THAAD is designed to defend U.S. troops, allied forces, population centers and critical infrastructure against short-to-intermediate range ballistic missiles. THAAD comprises a fire control and communications system, interceptors, launchers and a radar. The THAAD interceptor uses hit-to-kill technology to destroy targets, and THAAD is the only weapon system that engages threat ballistic missiles at both endo- and exo-atmospheric altitudes.