The Buzz

Why North Korea Should Fear THAAD

The Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency together with the United States Army has successfully engaged a “threat representative” intermediate range ballistic missile (IRBM) target with a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) battery on July 11. The THAAD intercept comes on the heels of a recent successful North Korean intercontinental ballistic missile test.

“I couldn’t be more proud of the government and contractor team who executed this flight test today,” MDA Director Lt. Gen. Sam Greaves said in a July 11 statement.

“This test further demonstrates the capabilities of the THAAD weapon system and its ability to intercept and destroy ballistic missile threats. THAAD continues to protect our citizens, deployed forces and allies from a real and growing threat.”

During the test—called Flight Test THAAD (FTT)-18—a U.S. Air Force operated Boeing C-17 airlifter air launched a ballistic missile over the Pacific Ocean north of Hawaii. An 11th Air Defense Artillery Brigade operated THAAD battery located in Kodiak, Alaska, then detected, tracked and intercepted the IRBM target.

According to the to MDA, the test was successful—which means that the THAAD is 14 for 14 for intercepting its intended target.

“Preliminary indications are that planned flight test objectives were achieved and the threat-representative, intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) target was successfully intercepted by the THAAD weapon system,” reads and MDA statement.

Lockheed Martin—which builds the THAAD—expressed its delight. "Our THAAD system performed flawlessly in today's test and we are proud to support the Missile Defense Agency and U.S. Army as they demonstrate the system's unmatched capabilities," Richard McDaniel, Lockheed Martin’s vice president of Upper Tier Integrated Air and Missile Defense Systems, said in a statement.

"With this successful test, the THAAD system continues to prove its ability to intercept and destroy many classes of the ballistic missile threat to protect citizens, deployed forces, allies and international partners around the globe."

According to the MDA, the THAAD intercept was representative of a real world operational scenario.

“Soldiers from the conducted launcher, fire control and radar operations using the same procedures they would use in an actual combat scenario,” the MDA statement reads.

“Soldiers operating the equipment were not aware of the actual target launch time.”

The THAAD, which is a mobile air transportable hit-to-kill system, which along with the U.S. Navy’s Standard missile system are America’s only truly successful ballistic missile defense weapons.

Indeed, even arms control advocates who are normally hostile to the concept of missile defense agree that these theatre missile defense weapons are operationally effective—and that resources should be concentrated on such systems rather than weapons like the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) that have a spotty record.

Dave Majumdar is the defense editor for The National Interest. You can follow him on Twitter: @Davemajumdar.