Wednesday, May 3, 2017

The Terminal High Altitude Area Defense System - Protecting the Free World

As we all know, the United States prides itself in its ability to protect its allies in all regions of the world with the latest in its technological armaments.  The Terminal High Altitude Area Defense or THAAD is one of the key elements of the American arsenal, currently being used to protect South Korea and Japan from a possible missile invasion by North Korea.  Let's take a closer look at its capabilities.

The Terminal High Altitude Area Defense or THAAD is a defense system built by Lockheed Martin with the capability of defending against both short- and medium-ranged ballistic missiles both inside and outside the atmosphere  The system operates at maximum altitudes of about 93 miles and has a range of 124 miles.  The missile/interceptor used by THAAD is also manufactured by Lockheed Martin; it weights 1984 pounds, is 20 feet long and travels at speeds up to 6250 miles per hour, powered by a single-stage solid propellant rocket motor.  The system is designed to destroy ballistic missiles during their "terminal phase" when they are re-entering earth's atmosphere on their downward trajectory.  The system is also designed to protect population centres, critical infrastructure as well as the U.S. military and its allies.  It is a mobile system based on a road-mobile erector-launcher and can be deployed anywhere in the world.  According to Lockheed Martin, THAAD has a 100 percent success rate in 13 consecutive flight tests since 2005.  It also has an 11 for 11 successful intercept rate.  Given these claims, one must keep in mind that the THAAD system has never been used in wartime so its capabilities are somewhat uncertain. 

Here's how the system works:

Here is a video by the manufacturer showing the system in operation, intercepting two nearly simultaneously launched medium-range ballistic missiles:

According to the manufacturer, here are the system's key capabilities:

1.) it can engage a wide class of ballistic missile threats in both the endo- and exo-atmosphere.

2.) it is effective against all types of warheads including weapons of mass destruction.

3.) it has up to 72 Interceptors per battery allowing the system to counter mass use of ballistic missiles by hostile forces.

4.) it is mobile and is rapidly deployable.

5.) it can be used with other Ballistic Missile Defense Systems (BMDS). 

Now, let's look at the bottom line; how much does a THAAD battery cost interested parties?  In fiscal 2015, the full cost of a THAAD battery (excluding support equipment) was $757 million.  This includes 48 interceptor missiles at a unit cost of $11.02 million, 6 launchers at a unit cost of  $7.74 million, a AN/TPY-2 Ground Based Radar System (sourced from Raytheon) at a cost of $172.77 million and two Tactical Station Groups at a unit cost of $9.27 million.  In 2013, Lockheed Martin was awarded a production contract worth $1.93 billion for the manufacture and delivery of two THAAD batteries to the United Arab Emirates.  

As of May 1, 2017, U.S. officials announced that the THAAD system deployed to South Korea had reach an "initial operating capability to defend against North Korean missiles".   The system is located at a site in Seonjgu in South Korea's southern regions.  This has created issues for local residents because they are concerned that the region could become a target for North Korea's missiles. 

The billions of dollars spent to develop the THAAD system may appear to be money well spent, however, until it is tested repeatedly in combat situations, no one will ever really know whether it was worth investing taxpayers' dollars on this particular defence system.

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