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First THAAD Integrated Flight Test Successful, MDA Says

By | May 15, 2006

      By Ann Roosevelt

      The Missile Defense Agency (MDA) said the integrated flight test of Lockheed Martin’s [LMT] Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) Ballistic Missile Defense System (BMDS) element met all planned test objectives. “All planned test objectives were achieved,” an MDA statement said. The specific test objectives included demonstrating all major elements of the THAAD weapon system during the engagement of a virtual target.

      “From all indications it was a wonderful flight,” Tom McGrath, Lockheed Martin vice president for the THAAD program, said in a teleconference about an hour after the flight. “The first integrated flight test including all elements of the weapon system–the radar, fire control, launcher and the missile–all operated as we expected them to in this flight, so we’re very happy with the results.” In two to three months, a seeker characterization flight test will be conducted with an actual, not simulated, target missile at White Sands, N.M. “We won’t be putting an offset in, so with success we should have an intercept on that flight,” McGrath said.

      THAAD is an autonomous, mobile, integrated weapon system consisting of a radar, produced by Raytheon [RTN], fire control unit, launchers and interceptor missiles. It is designed to intercept and destroy short- to intermediate-range ballistic missiles in the endo- or exo-atmosphere in terminal phase of a hostile missile’s flight. THAAD will provide upper-tier defense in the terminal segment of MDA’s layered, integrated BMDS.

      The test, conducted at White Sands, involved the successful launch of the THAAD interceptor missile from its mobile launcher. “It was beautiful,” McGrath said.

      In November, the program conducted a successful flight test focused on interceptor fly-out and controllability (Defense Daily, Nov. 23).

      The radar, also used in the November flight test, this time used a simulated target. The radar acquired and tracked the THAAD missile and sent it updates. All worked flawlessly, he said. The rest of the weapon system operated just as it would on an intercept mission until the missile opened the seeker’s aperture and there was no target. The fire control unit set search fences for the radar as well as the schedule for communicating with the missile, and sent commands to the launcher, which responded.

      During the November flight, the launcher only provided mechanical support. In yesterday’s test all the electronics were working, sending the launch message to the missile and the coordinates to fly toward. The flight test also demonstrated interceptor performance, including the booster rocket system and the divert and attitude control system that maneuvers the missile for the intercept.

      The flight test trajectory was the same as the November test, and will be the same for the next flight test.

      There are three more flight tests planned for White Sands: the seeker characterization test, an intercept flight test and the final test will be a missile flight without a target to demonstrate the missile’s low-endoatmosphere capability.

      While the THAAD missile must perform an energy management maneuver to stay within range constraints at White Sands, the program gains insights from the hardware collected on the desert floor after the tests.

      For example, McGrath said, while the THAAD boost motor can be fired on the ground and cut up afterward to see how the insulation or various components performed, ground tests can’t express how the vehicle operates in the air. When missile parts fall to earth after a flight test, actual flight information is gained, including support for pre-flight predictions, he said. No surprises to date have been reported, he added.

      With five flight tests concluded at White Sands by the end of the year, the program will move to the Pacific Missile Range Facility (PMRF) on Kauai, Hawaii, for the 10 remaining flight tests in the program. The tests will become ever more complex. For example, tests could include THAAD data injectiions to MDA’s BMDS battle command system as part of testing, and other BMDS terminal elements could be included, such as the Army Patriot Weapon System and the Navy’s Aegis BMD.

      Soldiers from the 6th Air Defense Artillery Brigade at Fort Bliss, Texas, were in the backup position on the fire control and launcher for this most recent test. Soldiers also participated in the earlier November test, and will be given increasing responsibilities in the next couple of tests, McGrath said.

      THAAD is managed by MDA and executed by the THAAD Project Office in Huntsville, Ala. Lockheed Martin is the prime contractor, working under a $4.8 billion engineering and manufacturing development contract since 2000. The contract is expected to run until 2009.

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