Missile Defense Element Successfully Flight Tested

By Steven Donald Smith
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, July 12, 2006 - The Missile Defense Agency successfully completed a developmental flight test of a major element of its ballistic missile defense system today at White Sands Missile Range, N.M., agency officials said.

Initial indications show that the test achieved what it set out to do: test parts of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system to ensure they work together, officials said. The THAAD components include truck-mounted launchers, interceptor missiles, radars, and fire control and communications management.

Today's test aimed to demonstrate that the THAAD system could follow a trajectory required to hit a target -- in this case, a Hera target missile -- just inside the earth's atmosphere. In doing so, it successfully locked onto, intercepted and destroyed the missile, officials reported.

That's an important milestone in developing the THAAD, the first weapon system designed specifically to engage targets both with and outside the earth's atmosphere. This capability makes it a critical part of the layered missile defense system, officials said.

The mobile THAAD system can be airlifted to almost anywhere in the world within hours and is designed to defend against short-, medium- and long-range ballistic missiles during the critical final minute of flight, according to a Missile Defense Agency news release. Its ability to operate at higher altitudes provides more protection of larger areas than lower-tier systems, officials said.

Today's test, the third such test flight, also demonstrated the interceptor's ability to respond to directions to engage an incoming ballistic missile target and provide in-flight target updates, officials said.

Previous THAAD tests focused primarily on launching the interceptor. Remaining flight tests will build on today's test results and evaluate the THAAD's capability in increasingly challenging scenarios.

The current U.S. ballistic missile defense system, which includes nine ground-based interceptor missiles at Fort Greely, Alaska, and two at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., is still being developed. The system aims to integrate land-, sea-, and air-based missile defenses to protect the U.S. homeland, deployed troops, and America's friends and allies against all types of ballistic missiles in all phases of flight, officials said.

Soldiers from the 6th Air Defense Artillery Brigade participated in today's test, conducting radar operations and assisting contractors at the launcher and fire control and communications operations. The U.S. Army will operate the THADD system when it is fielded.

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