The $8 billion Lockheed Martin Theater High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile flopped again on 12 May, when it failed to intercept a target ballistic missile for the fifth time.

Achieving a successful intercept was considered vital to the project as the US Department of Defense seeks $822 million for fiscal year 1999 to continue development of the hit-to-kill weapon designed to defend ground troops against short-range ballistic missile attacks. Before the latest failure, the House National Security Committee endorsed the budget request, but the Senate Armed Services Committee cut it by $70 million.

Preliminary data show that the THAAD missile went out of control shortly after launch from the White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico. The missile hit the range about 3km (2 miles) north of the launch site. Analysis of the flight data is under way to determine the cause of the malfunction.

The latest unsuccessful flight was pushed into this year because of additional technical problems. Before the latest failure, the THAAD programme was expected to move from the demonstration/validation phase to an engineering and manufacturing development programme in early 1999. EMD was supposed to begin two years ago. THAAD's initial deployment has been put back to 2006, at the earliest.

Two independent review teams last year concluded that the hit-to-kill interceptor's design was sound, despite earlier test failures.

Source: Flight International