The US Army's experimental Theater High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile failed to hit a test target for the sixth consecutive time in its latest test firing on 29 March, costing Lockheed Martin, the prime contractor, compensation to the US Department of Defense.


As part of a so-called "cure notice" issued by the Pentagon's Ballistic Missile Defense Organization (BMDO) late last year, Lockheed Martin lost $15 million in compensation for the failure, at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. The "hit-to-kill" weapon failed to intercept a Hera target. Telemetry was lost, but project officials believe the THAAD prototype came within 30m (100ft) of an intercept.

The programme has cost the Pentagon about $4 billion so far. Early this year, the BMDO gave a funding increase to the rival Navy Theater Wide upper tier Theater Missile Defence (TMD) weapon, which uses the Raytheon AEGIS radar system and Standard missile. The THAAD and the TMD will be re-evaluated late next year to determine which project should be accelerated.

The US Army is to retest THAAD in May and twice more in June. Lockheed Martin faces an additional $20 million in contract-imposed penalties if no intercepts are scored by 30 June and as much as $75 million in penalties by the end of this year should THAAD continue to miss the mark.

US Army Lt Gen Paul Kern, the senior military deputy for research and acquisition, says he was "encouraged rather than discouraged" by the outcome of the THAAD test. "We're much closer to achieving success," he says.

Source: Flight International