THAAD to defend against ballistic missile attacks

by Sgt. 1st Class Connie E. Dickey

WASHINGTON (Army News Service, May 13, 1998) -- Soldiers from Fort Bliss, Texas, are in the nation's capital demonstrating the Army's new defense against ballistic missile attacks.

The Theater High Altitude Air Defense system was tested Tuesday by other soldiers from Fort Bliss. Although the THAAD failed to intercept a target ballistic missile at White Sands Missile Range, N.M., ADA soldiers are still optimistic about the weapon system.

The system was brought to Washington, D.C., April 28 and placed on display near the Capitol building, along with a 40-foot Iraqi Scud Missile. The Scud -- such as the one which killed 28 American soldiers and injured dozens more in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, during Desert Storm -- is a threat experts say the THAAD could provide an effective defense against.

If the THAAD system were fully funded, it would be used with the current Patriot system to allow for short and medium-range high altitude defense against ballistic missile attacks. While the Patriot system is designed as a defense against tactical ballistic missiles within the atmosphere, the THAAD is capable of engaging and destroying missiles beyond the atmosphere.

"Comparing a Patriot to a THAAD is like comparing a moped to an Indianapolis race car," said Chief Warrant Officer Eddie Atkins, electronic maintenance officer from the 1st Battalion, 6th Air Defense Artillery. Atkins said he has worked with both systems and "I just cannot say enough good things about the THAAD. Its range is what is absolutely amazing."

The THAAD system consists of missiles, launcher, radar, battle management/command, control, communication, computers and intelligence units, and support equipment. This entire system, operated by soldiers from A Battery, 1st Battalion, 6th Air Defense Artillery, was transported from Fort Bliss to Washington, D.C., for several demonstrations.

After being on display at the Capitol, the THAAD was set up May 7-10 on the national Mall for Public Service Recognition Week and it will be at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., for the Armed Forces Day joint-service open house May 15-17.

The THAAD's overall price tag of $14 billion includes the total cost of the system from development through procurement, according to Lt. Col. Lloyd McDaniels with the Army's Research, Development and Acquisition office in the Pentagon. He said about $3 billion has been spent already in the development phase of the system.

"The system is good all the way around," said Sgt. Daniel Kopta, THAAD launcher crew chief, "but the range is the greatest asset. It can actually intercept a fired missile in outer space, and it travels so fast by using kinetic energy, that the intercepted missile and the THAAD will be destroyed as soon as they come into contact."

Kopta said there would be no debris falling to the ground with the THAAD because it would burn up as it enters the earth's atmosphere. He said this would be true even if the ballistic missile carried chemical, biological or nuclear elements in its warhead. With the Patriot, debris would sometimes fall to the ground because impact occurs at a much lower altitude. In addition, the Patriot does not always directly impact its target, as it explodes when sensors indicate it is near another missile.

Kopta said there are some other distinct advantages to the THAAD.

"Once the system (launcher and missiles) is set up, the soldiers won't be with the system, they will be back at the TOC (tactical operations center), and will only have to go back to the system if something goes wrong or to do required maintenance," he said. There will be a computer system set up at the missile site that will tell the system what to do, by reading information to and from the TOC.

The communications center at the TOC will read the radar, track any incoming missiles, and relay information to the THAAD missile. A big plus is that the THAAD can be placed on automatic or manual firing, be put on hold once it is fired or stopped after launching. If the missile is stopped, it will destroy itself.

A battery will run the computer system at the launch site, and the computer will tell itself when the battery is low, in which case, the system will automatically turn on a 10-kilowatt quiet generator to recharge its battery.

The concept for the system began 33 months ago and has gone through several flight tests at White Sands. At the test Tuesday morning, the THAAD missile apparently went out of control shortly after launch and analysis of the flight data is underway to find the reason for the malfunction. The THAAD is the first weapon system designed to specifically defend troops against ballistic missiles. DoD officials said the Patriot system was originally designed as an anti-aircraft system and modified during Desert Storm to defend against SCUDs.

Soldiers have been trained on the THAAD prototype equipment and currently are performing selected tasks during flight-testing and are assisting contractor personnel on all equipment. Soldier involvement during the current flight test program will support the smooth transition for the Congressionally mandated User Operational Evaluation System, which will support operational assessments of the systems as well as provide an early warfighting capability in the event of a national emergency.

Rep. Curt Weldon told the group at the display that the problems with the prior flight tests all involved quality control problems and have been fixed. "Congress is committed to providing effective theater missile defenses in place to protect U.S. troops," Weldon said. "We cannot defend a single attack from a missile to date. Over the past five years we have made tremendous progress...the THAAD is an example of how far we have come."

"This is the best radar acquisition system, it's the best high altitude defense system we have to defend an area. With this system, we will be able to intercept at supersonic speed any incoming missile, so it is not a threat to the soldiers on the ground," Lt. Gen. Paul Kern said. Kern is the military deputy to the assistant secretary of the Army for research, development and acquisition.