Magazine article National Defense

Improved U.S. Tactical Missile Defense Relies on Hit-to-Kill Success

Magazine article National Defense

Improved U.S. Tactical Missile Defense Relies on Hit-to-Kill Success

Article excerpt

In light of the recent crisis with Iraq, the defensive weapons available to U.S. forces to defeat enemy ballistic missiles are receiving renewed attention by military planners and congressional policy makers.

Army officials in charge of missile defense are now primarily focusing on improving the capabilities of two cornerstone systems for theater ballistic missile defense-the Patriot air defense and the theater high altitude area defense (THAAD) systems.

The Patriot PAC-3 is the most mature of the theater missile defense systems. It provides lower tier defense against tactical ballistic missiles and cruise missiles for corps-level theaters. A Patriot fire unit includes a radar set, an engagement control station, an electronic power plant, an antenna mast group, and up to eight launchers that hold four missiles each.

An upgrade program currently under way seeks an improved missile with a hit-to-kill feature that would allow it to intercept an incoming warhead in flight and destroy it. During the recent U.S. Persian Gulf military deployment, this Patriot PAC-3 III upgrade was not available because it has yet to complete testing, says Lt. Gen. Paul J. Kern, USA, military deputy to the assistant secretary of the Army for research, development and acquisition.

The first two configurations of PAC-3 are deployed in Southwest Asia and in South Korea. The third configuration will not only provide a hit-to-kill missile, but will also offer improvements in communications, radar, and ground system technology, according to Jacques S. Gansler, undersecretary of defense for acquisition and technology, who recently testified on Capitol Hill on these military capabilities.

The Army plans to conduct the first intercept flight for PAC-3 III during the next several months. If the testing succeeds, the missile could enter low rate production in the near future. Gansler tells a House panel that the first deliveries of the ground system hardware and software have already begun; and that developmental and operational testing will start this year. All these efforts aim at equipping a full unit by late Fiscal Year 1999.

The 1999 budget request by the Clinton administration proposed $137 million for research, development, and testing, and $343 million for procurement of the PAC-3 III.

Despite fears that Iraq's Saddam Hussein may decide to launch Scud ballistic missiles against U.S. or allied troops, a more compelling threat is the one posed by terrorists, says Gen. …

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