THE USA suffered a setback on 13 December when the Lockheed Martin Theater High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) missile failed to intercept a ballistic-missile target over the White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico. It was the THAAD's fourth flight and the first of 11 planned intercepts.

The THAAD missile was launched from the range against a Storm target, which resembles a Scud missile. Also featured in the critical flight test was the THAAD battle-management command, control, communications and intelligence (BMC3I) system designed to provide fire-control data and updates to the missile. The THAAD ground-based radar (GBR) was also involved.

According to the US Army, both the Storm target and the THAAD missile flew as programmed, but the kill vehicle missed the target. "The technical guys are scratching their heads because everything pointed to a hit," it adds.

THAAD programme officials are evaluating telemetry and other test data to try and sort out what happened. Although "concerned" about the test failure, the officials see no "showstoppers" emerging, the Army says. Both the BMC3I and the GBR performed as planned, it maintains. A total of 14 demonstration/validation tests are planned. The next THAAD flight will be scheduled after investigators have determined the reasons behind the test failure.

The THAAD would be used to engage theatre ballistic missiles at high altitudes and long ranges using hit-to-kill technology. Engineering and manufacturing development is scheduled to begin in 1996, and low-rate initial production could begin in 1999.

Introduction would take place in 2001. As many as 1,500 THAAD missiles, 100 launchers and 18 ground-based radars may be procured, by the Pentagon.

Source: Flight International