THAAD Weapon System Conducts Successful Exo-Atmospheric Interceptor Test

Lieutenant General Henry “Trey” Obering, Missile Defense Agency director, announced today that an important test of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) element of the Ballistic Missile Defense System was successfully completed at approximately 3:15 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time today (approximately 9:15 p.m. Friday Hawaii Standard Time), resulting in the intercept of a ballistic missile target at the Pacific Missile Range Facility off the island of Kauai in Hawaii. Preliminary indications are that planned flight test objectives were achieved. The intercept involved the “exo-atmospheric” (outside earth’s atmosphere) “hit to kill” destruction of a unitary (non-separating) target representing a “SCUD”-type ballistic missile launched from
a mobile platform positioned off Kauai in the Pacific Ocean. The interceptor was launched from the THAAD launch complex at the Pacific Missile Range Facility.

Since November 2005 the THAAD Weapon System program has conducted seven successful flight tests including four tests involving the successful intercept of threat representative targets:

November 2005 – Successful missile-only flight test
May 2006 – Successful integration of the entire THAAD Weapon System including launcher, interceptor, radar and fire control system
July 2006 – Successful seeker characterization flight test including first target intercept
September 2006 – Mission designated a ‘no-test’ when the HERA target malfunctioned and was destroyed by WSMR Range Safety before the interceptor was launched; excellent THAAD ground data was acquired
January 2007 – Successful high endo-atmospheric intercept of a unitary target in THAAD’s first flight test at the PMRF
April 2007 – Successful intercept of a unitary target at lower altitude
June 2007 – Successful missile-only flight test in low endo-atmosphere
October 2007 – Successful intercept of a unitary target outside the atmosphere.

This was the 31st successful “hit to kill” intercept in 39 tests since 2001 by ground and sea-based interceptors against short, medium and long-range ballistic missile targets. The primary objective of this test was to demonstrate integrated operations of the system, including radar, launcher, fire control equipment and procedures, and the interceptor to detect, track and destroy the target missile using only the force of a direct collision between the interceptor and the target missile—hit to kill technology. Other objectives included demonstrating performance of an interceptor that had been “hot conditioned,” or heated to a certain temperature before launching; and demonstrating the ability of the interceptor to perform correctly in the “endgame,” or final seconds before target intercept. The ability of soldiers from the U.S. Army to conduct launcher, fire control and radar operations was also observed.

This was the fourth successful intercept for the current THAAD program in four tests and the third test of the THAAD system at Pacific Missile Range Facility. The first test at the Pacific Missile Range Facility was a successful high-endoatmospheric (just inside earth’s atmosphere) intercept of a SCUD-type unitary target in January of this year. The second test this past April, also a success, involved the intercept of a “mid endoatmospheric” (inside earth’s atmosphere) unitary target representing a “SCUD”-type ballistic missile. Soldiers of the 6th Air Defense Artillery Brigade stationed at Fort Bliss, Texas operated all THAAD equipment during all tests, conducting operations of the launcher, fire control and communications and radar. Their interaction with the complete THAAD system provided valuable test and operations experience for the soldiers, and contributed to the operational realism of the tests.

THAAD is the first weapon system with both endo-atmospheric and exo-atmospheric 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, 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. Patriot and THAAD, as well as the long-range Ground-based Midcourse Defense and the sea-based Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense, all use “hit to kill” technology.

THAAD is designed to defend U.S. troops, allied forces, population centers and critical infrastructure against short- to intermediate range ballistic missiles. THAAD comprises a fire control and communications system, interceptors, launchers and a radar. The THAAD interceptor uses hit-to-kill technology to destroy targets, and THAAD is the only weapon system that engages threat ballistic missiles at both endo- and exo-atmospheric altitudes.

A key element of the US’s Ballistic Missile Defense System (BMDS),THAAD is a Missile Defense Agency program, with the program office located in Huntsville, AL. The agency is developing a BMDS to defend the United States, its deployed forces, friends and allies against ballistic missiles of all ranges and in all phases of flight.

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