The USA has notified Russia that it plans to begin flight-testing of the Lockheed Theatre High-Altitude Air-Defence (THAAD) missile in February.

Notification is required, as deployment of the mobile THAAD system would violate the US-Russian Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty.

Lockheed Missiles & Space has delivered hardware to White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico, for the first of 14 demonstration/validation (dem/val) flights planned over the next two years.

The THAAD is a hit-to-kill missile, consisting of a solid-rocket booster and an unpowered, infra-red-guided, kill vehicle. The weapon is designed to intercept tactical ballistic-missiles inside or outside the Earth's atmosphere.

The 1972 ABM treaty was intended to prohibit development of mobile air-defence systems capable of intercepting intercontinental ballistic-missiles, but makes no distinction between strategic and tactical weapons.

The USA plans to resume negotiations with Russia in March on revisions to the treaty to allow development of the THAAD.

Lockheed is building 20 missiles under its four-year dem/val contract, with an option for 20 more. Raytheon is developing the associated ground-based radar. The additional missiles are required for user testing, but will give the US Army a contingency capability to field a prototype system as early as 1997. The THAAD is scheduled to become operational around the year 2000.

International interest in the THAAD is high, Lockheed says. It signed an agreement with Mitsubishi in November 1994 to conduct theatre-missile defence (TMD) studies and examine the possibility of applying the THAAD to meet Japan's requirements.

The US and Japanese Governments are continuing to discuss TMD collaboration, according to the company.

Source: Flight International