It was the first test of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system, or THAAD, under what the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency described as “operational” conditions.
Since advanced THAAD testing began in 2006, the system is a perfect nine for nine in intercepts attempted, said Richard Lehner, an agency spokesman.
The use of two interceptors was a first for the system, designed to protect against multiple ballistic missile salvos of the type that countries like Iran or North Korea could launch.
“It was, by far, THAAD’s most challenging flight test to date and demonstrates the system’s advanced capabilities,” Tom McGrath, Lockheed Martin’s THAAD program manager, said in a statement.
The test was carried out at the Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kauai, Hawaii. THAAD is said by experts to be the only system capable of thwarting short- and intermediate-range ballistic missiles both inside and outside Earth’s atmosphere. Raytheon builds its radar.
THAAD is part of an emerging, layered U.S. shield against ballistic missiles that could be tipped with chemical, biological or nuclear warheads.
The troops who operated THAAD in the latest test did not know what day nor time the mission would occur, “to make this a realistic tactical environment,” the Lockheed statement said.
It said a THAAD missile intercepted an air-launched short-range missile and a second THAAD missile took out a sea-launched short-range missile “a short time later.”
The Missile Defense Agency said the target missiles were intercepted “simultaneously.” MDA and Lockheed did not immediately clarify the timing discrepancy.
THAAD is being developed for the U.S. Army. The Defense Department notified the U.S. Congress in September 2008 that the United Arab Emirates wanted to be the first foreign buyer. At the time, the Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency put the potential value of the UAE deal at $7 billion.
Since then, UAE officials have identified some system elements “that they think they can do without right now,” Dennis Cavin, Lockheed’s lead executive on the deal, told Reuters in August.
The original notice to lawmakers said the UAE had requested three THAAD “fire units” with 147 THAAD missiles, four THAAD radar sets, six communications systems, nine launchers and related gear.