Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) System

Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD), one of the world’s most advanced missile systems, can target and blast incoming ballistic missiles. Once fired from its truck-based launcher, each interceptor uses kinetic energy to deliver “hit to kill” strikes to ballistic threats instead of traditional warheads.

The THAAD missile defense systems are intended to safeguard a country against imminent ballistic missile attacks. The Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) is a relatively recent addition in America’s anti-ballistic missile defense system which has the capability to intercept and destroy short, medium and intermediate range ballistic missiles at the range of 200 Km and altitudes of up to 150 Km using kinetic kill vehicle.

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The missile’s unnerving maneuverability comes from the DACS, or divert and attitude control system, which uses thrusters to precisely steer the kill vehicle to its target during the final moments of flight. The last component of the missile is the cone-shaped shroud, which holds the seeker, also described as the vehicles eyes.

Like Patriot Missile Defense Systems, THAAD intercepts missiles during their terminal phase of flight, but provides theater-wide protection that Patriot systems cannot. THAAD is designed to protect against short (up to 1,000 km), medium (1,000 – 3,000 km), and intermediate (3,000 – 5,000 km) range ballistic missiles either inside or just outside the atmosphere, offering greater protection for troops by intercepting the incoming missile further from its target. THAAD is able to accept cues from Aegis, satellites, and other external sensors to extend its coverage area and can in concert with Patriot/PAC-3 and the Command, Control, Battle Management and Communications (C2BMC) system. THAAD’s greater radar coverage is also designed to counter mass raids and can be deployed as part of a layered defense system.

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The THAAD missile intercepts threats inside or outside the atmosphere during their final or terminal phase. Manufactured by Lockheed Martin Corporation, a THAAD battery incorporates six launcher vehicles; each vehicle is able to fire eight missiles. THAAD batteries comprise of four fundamental components: launcher, interceptor, Radar, and Fire Control unit.

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The THAAD launcher is truck mounted which makes it portable, capable of carrying up to eight interceptors that can be quickly ejected and reloaded. THAAD interceptors use hit-to-kill technology where the imminent threat is wrecked by kinetic energy and uses the largest Army Navy/Transportable Radar Surveillance (AN/TPY-2). The THAAD radar can interoperate with Aegis and Patriot systems, in a 3-layer antimissile defense.

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This transportable and mobile AN/TPY-2 X-band high resolution Radar search, track, and distinguish objects at the range of up to 3000 km and give tracking information to the missile interceptor. THAAD intercepts rockets amid their terminal period of flight like Patriot defense systems, however, gives the broad defense that Patriot system could not. Lockheed Martin’s THAAD is interoperable with Raytheon’s Patriot system.

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In written testimony to the House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee, Admiral Cecil Haney, former commander of U.S. Strategic Command, proposed the THAAD-Extended Range (THAAD-ER) as a potential solution to these threats. THAAD is uniquely capable of engaging advanced threats such as intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM), cruise missiles and maneuverable hypersonic glide vehicles.

In 2008, Lockheed Martin delivered the first THAAD battery to the U.S. Army. Since then, the system has been deployed to Guam, South Korea, Romania and Israel. In December 2011, the United States and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) reached an arms deal worth $3.48 billion for the UAE to purchase two THAAD systems, missiles, radar system, parts, and training. The U.S. Department of State has approved the sale of Patriot and THAAD to Saudi Arabia in deals potentially worth over $15 billion.

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