THAAD comes close to intercept

by Sgt. 1st Class Connie E. Dickey

WASHINGTON (Army News Service, March 30, 1999) -- The Theater High Altitude Area Defense system came close to a "hit-to-kill" intercept in its latest test March 29, according to senior Pentagon officials.

The THAAD, however, broke apart about 10 to 30 meters from its target during the system's 5 a.m. test at White Sands Missile Range, N.M. The THAAD was tested against a Hera target, which simulated a Scud missile, officials said.

"Although this is not where we want to be," said Lt. Gen. Paul Kern, "we are much closer than we have been before." Kern is the military deputy to the assistant secretary of the Army for research, development and acquisition.

All the THAAD components (radar, command and control, and the tactical operations center) were working together well, said Air Force Lt. Gen. Lester Lyles, director of the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization. BMDO funds the THAAD program, which is executed by the Army.

One minute into the flight, telemetry was lost, Lyles said. Telemetry is the transmission of information such as distance, speed, pressure and temperature. Lyles said data collected from the ground and airborne equipment will have to be deciphered before the cause of the failure is known.

If data shows a design flaw in the THAAD caused the failure, the manufacturer, Lockheed Martin Corp., will face a $15 million fine, Lyles said. The company agreed to pay a fine for unsuccessful tests after a failure in May 1998. If the THAAD does not have an intercept in the next two scheduled tests in May and June, Lyles said Lockheed will face an additional $20 million fine.

This is the seventh test failure for the THAAD, which is supposed to intercept incoming warheads and engage and destroy them beyond the atmosphere. The Army's Patriot system is a defense against tactical ballistic missiles within the atmosphere.

Kern said the failures were not repetitions of one problem, but that a different problem has surfaced in each test. Since the failure in May 1998, Kern said Lockheed has worked closely with Raytheon to help review details of the interceptor. Both Lyles and Kern praised Lockheed for bringing in new leadership and expertise, including a seasoned troubleshooter, to the THAAD program.

"This is an extremely critical part of our country's missile system," Kern said, "and I am convinced America's industry can do this."