Magazine article National Defense

Pentagon Gets Mixed Results from Tactical Missile Efforts

Magazine article National Defense

Pentagon Gets Mixed Results from Tactical Missile Efforts

Article excerpt

After a brush with death following a March failure, the Pentagon's $3 billion anti-missile effort aimed at protecting troops on the battlefield, last month received a big boost.

Following six consecutive misses, the Army's Theater High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) scored a successful hit by colliding with its target at an altitude of about 60 miles over the White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico.

It slammed a target called Hera, a modified Minuteman missile which simulates the Scud ballistic missiles fired by Iraq during the 1991 Gulf War. This was THAAD's first successful intercept of a ballistic missile.

"This [test] demonstrates that the technology can be made to work ... that allows us to hit a bullet with a bullet," said Air Force Brig. Gen. Richard Davis, deputy for theater air and missile defense at the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization, which oversees the program. But he cautioned that "we still have a ways to go."

Another test is scheduled this month. Under the Army's contract with Lockheed Martin Missiles & Space, Sunnyvale, California, there must be three successful intercepts before the program can move into its next phase of development.

Lockheed was fined $15 million for the March failure. The company became prime contractor in 1992.

Raytheon Systems Company, Arlington, Virginia, builds the THAAD radar. Coleman Research Corporation, Fairfax, Virginia, and Aerotherm Corporation, Mountain View, California, are the contractors for the Hera targets. THAAD's fiscal year 2000 budget is about $600 million.

The system is designed to protect wider battle zones than those covered by the Patriot short-range air and missile defense battery, which was used in the Gulf War.

New Missile

Patriot was slated to test its new interceptor missile at White Sands last month. But an extended drought in the nation's Southwest foiled the schedule.

The new missile, called Patriot advanced capability 3, or PAC-3, is a more advanced system than the one used against Iraq's Scuds more than eight years ago. PAC-3, once in operation, will seek to defend against tactical ballistic missiles, aircraft, cruise missiles, and unmanned air vehicles.

The test delays are not related to PAC-3 performance, but to the risks involved in allowing the Hera target to fly over an area of national forests-- outside the White Sands range-- where the dry weather conditions make it likely the missile could ignite a fire from sparks in the debris zone. The Hera target used for PAC-3 flights is a different version from the one used in the THAAD test.

That test was not affected by the drought because Hera only flew within the range airspace. The trajectory for the PAC-3 test, however, calls for Hera to fly outside the range, over the forests.

It will be the second hit-to-kill attempt by PAC-3. The missile successfully hit a target in the first test last March. During that test, PAC-3 intercepted the reentry vehicle target at an altitude of 7.5 miles.

Lockheed Martin Vought Systems, based in Dallas, is the PAC-3 prime contractor. Under the terms of the program, the Army will fund limited production of PAC-3 after two successful intercept tests. …

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