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In New Missile Defense Win, THAAD Performs Well; Budget Decisions Pending

By | July 2, 2007

      The Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system was launched in a test involving no target missile, a test that showed THAAD can perform well in the highly stressful area inside the atmosphere, according to the Missile Defense Agency (MDA).

      It was the second success in as many weeks for the overall multi-layered ballistic missile defense (BMD) shield. Less than a week earlier, MDA was able to herald a successful test of the sea-based Aegis ballistic missile system. (Please see Space & Missile Defense Report, Monday, June 25, 2007, page 1.)

      These winning-performance tests come as Congress is considering funding levels for BMD programs. Some lawmakers are moving to cut funding for some BMD programs, such as the Airborne Laser, while adding funds for other missile shield efforts such as the Aegis system and THAAD.

      For example, a Senate Armed Services Committee plan would add $105 million to THAAD in the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2008, to pay for increasing the missile production rate, begin the upgrade of the evolved THAAD interceptor, and conduct an additional test.

      It was the final THAAD test at the White Sands Missile Range, N.M. Subsequent THAAD tests will be conducted at the far more spacious Pacific Missile Range Facility at Kaui, Hawaii.

      This was the lowest-altitude flight of a THAAD interceptor thus far, according to the MDA, one that “demonstrated its ability to operate in a high-dynamic pressure environment with aero heating effects.” Operating in the atmosphere can heat the interceptor.

      By being able to operate at a “low-endosphere” point inside the atmosphere, THAAD fills a gap between the mobile ground-based Patriot PAC-3 and the Aegis/Standard Missile-3 sea-based missile defense, the MDA noted.

      THAAD is the first weapon system with both endo-atmospheric (inside the atmosphere) and exo-atmospheric (outside the atmosphere) 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, THAAD intercepts a ballistic missile target in the “terminal” phase of flight, the final minute or so when the hostile missile falls toward the earth at the end of its flight. THAAD uses “hit to kill” technology, using only the force of a direct impact with the target to destroy it.

      The Ballistic Missile Defense System now in development and testing will be capable of providing a layered defense for the U.S. homeland, its deployed forces, friends and allies against ballistic missiles of all ranges in all phases of flight.

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

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