American Forces Press Service

Narrow Miss for THAAD


  By Douglas J. Gillert
 American Forces Press Service

 WASHINGTON -- This time the interceptor came close -- possibly 
 within 30 meters of its target Hera missile. But for the [sixth]
 time, the THAAD failed to hit its target. 
 Following the launch from White Sands Missile Range, N.M., March 
 29 at 7:13 a.m. Eastern Time, the Theater High Altitude Area Defense 
 interceptor lost track of the target Hera, sped past it and 
 self-destructed. Officials here said the flight provided useful 
 data for future development and expressed optimism that a successful 
 intercept is in sight and could occur as soon as the next scheduled 
 attempt in May.
 While most of the Pentagon press corps was more interested in 
 Milosevic than missiles, a smattering of reporters queried 
 officials about the launch and the future of theater missile 
 defense. They heard Air Force Lt. Gen. Lester Lyles and Army Lt. 
 Gen. Paul Kern praise the morning launch for what it 
 accomplished, not criticize it for its failure.
 "We had good performance of the various subsystems," said Lyles, 
 director of the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization. He said the 
 interceptor's energy management and information systems worked as 
 planned, and the interceptor made nominal separation from its booster 
 on schedule. 
 "However, one minute into the flight, we lost telemetry," he 
 said. "From radar data and airborne sensors, we think we came 
 within 30 meters of having an intercept." He said officials 
 won't know for sure how close they came until they've evaluated 
 all the flight data.
 The test occurred at high altitude over the central portion of 
 White Sands. The Hera target, which simulated a Scud ballistic 
 missile, was launched seven minutes before the intercept test. 
 All THAAD elements participated, demonstrating integrated 
 performance of the entire system. The latest test also 
 incorporated an improved seeker and corrected other problems 
 encountered on earlier intercept attempts, BMDO officials said.
 Kern defended the ongoing THAAD program against congressional 
 concerns that it's costing too much and taking too long to 
 develop. "This is an extremely critical part of our nation's 
 defenses," said the military deputy assistant to the Army 
 assistant secretary for research, development and acquisition. 
 Noting a successful intercept of a Hera by the Patriot Advanced 
 Capability-3 missile at White Sands March 15, Kern said he's 
 convinced the Army and American industry will ultimately succeed 
 with the THAAD program. "We are very close to complete success," 
 he said.
 He said the Army will test the THAAD again in late May and twice 
 more in June. 
 The Pentagon also is interested in other theater defensive 
 systems, including the Navy's Theater Wide upper-tier system. 
 Kern said the competition for effective theater defense isn't, 
 however, an either-or proposition. "From the Army's perspective, 
 we want both [THAAD and Navy systems]," he said.
 Each failure of the THAAD costs the manufacturer, Lockheed 
 Martin Missiles and Space, $15 million in contract-imposed 
 penalties, Lyles said. Failure to hit by June 20 will incur an 
 additional $20 million penalty, and repeated failures could cost 
 Lockheed $75 million by year's end, he said.