July 12, 2006

Military says missile-shield component test successful

By Jim Wolf

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. military said it
successfully tested on Wednesday a missile-shield component
built by Lockheed Martin Corp. to shoot down a ballistic
missile in the last minute or so of its flight.

The so-called Terminal High Altitude Area Defense weapon
system, or THAAD, "exceeded its objectives" in the long-planned
test by shooting down a non-separating Hera target missile at
White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico, Lockheed said in a

THAAD, which is still being developed, is to be part of a
layered shield meant to defend against all ranges of ballistic
missiles in all phases of flight.

The backbone of the fledgling U.S. shield -- a ground-based
system coordinated by Boeing Co. to thwart long-range missiles
in the middle of their flight path -- was on alert during North
Korea's missile launches a week ago.

Of 10 planned flight tests of the ground-based, mid-course
system, five have ended with successful intercepts. In the two
most recent ones, the interceptor did not get off the ground.

The THAAD element is designed to destroy short- and
intermediate-range ballistic missiles in their terminal flight
phase -- approximately the last minute of flight.

The Pentagon plans to field two units consisting of 24
missiles each, the first one in 2009 and the second one by
December 2011, according to the Government Accountability
Office, Congress's investigative and audit arm.

"Initial indications are that all planned flight test
objectives were achieved," the Pentagon's Missile Defense
Agency said of the THAAD test.

Pam Rogers, an agency spokeswoman, said the test had
"absolutely no connection to the situation in North Korea,"
which test-fired at least seven ballistic missiles on July 5,
including a multistage Taepodong 2 missile with a potential
range that could include Alaska.

This marked the third successful THAAD developmental flight
test since such testing resumed in November 2005. The remaining
tests are for verifying the system's capabilities at
"increasingly difficult levels," the Missile Defense Agency

The primary goal of the latest test was to demonstrate an
ability for the THAAD interceptor to see and track the target
high in the earth's atmosphere, after its reentry from space,
Rogers said.

The United States has spent roughly $100 billion on missile
defense since then-President Ronald Reagan launched his
so-called Strategic Defense Initiative more than 20 years ago
-- a project mocked by critics as "Star Wars."