Lockheed Martin has gained a much-needed confidence boost after successfully conducting the first flight test of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system following a six-year hiatus caused by early technical and production problems.

Flight Test-1 on 22 November at the White Sands missile range in New Mexico had modest objectives. The missile was not launched to intercept a target warhead, but to verify the operation of the launcher, separation of the booster and kill vehicle, and the performance of the divert and attitude control system.

But Lockheed executives count initial data showing the flight was a success as a major victory as the programme nears a round of budget decisions in next year’s spending plan. The Bush Administration is expected to unveil its budget request for the 2007 fiscal year in early February.

“If the test had not gone well, I’m not sure I’d be sitting here telling you this programme was stable,” says Dennis Cavin, Lockheed’s vice-president for international air and missile defence business.

The army has shown great patience with THAAD’s progresss since flight tests were put on hold after a chequered experience in the late 1990s.

Lockheed is under pressure to prove that its fixes to both the technology and producibility of the missile have worked.

This test had itself been delayed since the second quarter of last year by production-line delays.

Those problems have been ironed out in time to support a scheduled second flight test in February or May.

A series of 11 flight tests is expected to support a production decision by the army in fiscal year 2007, says Cavin. Progress will be measured slowly, with the first intercept test not planned until the fourth missile launch some time in the third quarter of 2006.

Meanwhile, Cavin and other Lockheed officials have not started an international marketing campaign for THAAD, but are working with the six-nation Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) – Saudi Arabia, Oman, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar.

The GCC has been studying a regional missile defence system for three years, says Gavin, and has identified THAAD as a potential candidate.

The Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne control system uses small liquid-fuelled thrusters for roll control during flyout of the Aerojet booster and subsequent manoeuvring of the kill vehicle.


Source: Flight International