Disarmament DiplomacyIssue No. 17, July - August 1997
Missile Defence DevelopmentsUS Systems Development
The US is proceeding apace with the development of deployable options for a national missile defence (NMD) system against theatre range ballistic missiles.
One of the most important and ambitious options being considered is the Theater High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) interceptor-system, which has experienced a series of failed tests of key components, most recently in March this year. THAAD is being designed principally by Lockheed Martin. On 23 June, a senior company official, Doug Graham, spoke to Defense Daily about a series of 6 tests for the system, scheduled for November at the White Sands missile range in New Mexico: "It's frustrating for us because we have a system that we're convinced will do the job... [But] we are committed to getting an intercept on the next flight."
It was revealed on 21 July that the Department of Defense (DoD) had limited the development of the software for THAAD in order to ensure compliance with the US-Russia Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty. The limitations, imposed at a cost of $3.2 million, were detailed by DoD official Kent Stansberry during testimony to the Senate Government Affairs Subcommittee on International Security. According to Stansberry, the restrictions "did not result in any capability limitation of THAAD."
On 24 June, the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization (BMDO) conducted the first test flight of an Exatmospheric Kill Vehicle (EKV), an infrared sensor designed to track missiles in space. The test was reported to have been successful. The EKV, carried on the Multi-Service Launch System (MSLS) missile, was launched from the Vandenberg Air Force base in California and tracked a Payload Launch Vehicle (PLV) fired from the Kwajelein missile range on the Marshall Islands, over 4,000 miles away.
The BMDO has commissioned two companies, Bowing North American and Hughes Aircraft, to design alternative EKVs, with a decision on the best performing system to be made in 1999. The 25 June test was of the Boeing version.
On 23 June, a number of newswire reports spoke of a 'secret' US-Israel conference in Eilat, Israel, on missile defence collaboration between the two States. According to the reports, around 500 delegates attended the conference.
The two States are known to be collaborating on a range of development projects, including the Arrow (Hetz in Hebrew) anti-missile missile. which Israel hopes to deploy by 2000.
On 26 June, Representative Curt Weldon (Republican - Pennsylvania), Chair of the House National Security Committee, argued that the Arrow should be seriously considered as a fall-back system for the US, if current plans, particularly for THAAD, fail to materialise. According to Weldon:
"With more enhancements, Arrow could become an alternative to [our] NMD system... Overall, we should be looking at every available alternative to meet our NMD needs..."
On 9 August, it was reported that Japan had decided to postpone a decision on participation in a project with the US aimed at providing a ballistic missile defence system for deployment in and around Japan. The main reason for the postponement is said to be financial. Research on a possible joint-venture will continue, it was reported.
The postponement decision follows a two-year study period, including 11 meetings of senior officials from both States, the latest reportedly commencing on 15 July.
On 9 August, Australia's Defence Minister, Ian McLachlan, announced that Australia and the US would be conducting a joint test-firing of a new version of the US Terrier surface-to-air missile, designed to intercept theatre range ballistic missiles. The main purpose of the firing will be to ascertain the ability of Australia's Jindalee over-the-horizon radar to track the missiles in flight. The radar is based at Alice Springs.
The collaboration, between the BMDO and Australia's Defense Science and Technology Organization (DTSO), is known as Project Dundee - Downunder Early-warning Experiment.
According to McLachlan:
"The aim...is to investigate the possibility of detecting missile launches in their 'boost phase', immediately after launch... Although Australia does not face a threat from such [theatre ballistic] weapons, it is prudent that we acquire an understanding of ballistic missile defense technologies."
Reports: Lockheed Martin prepares for crucial THAAD tests, Defense Daily, 23 June; Israel, US stage secret weapons conference, Agence France-Presse International News, 23 June; US-led missile conference held in secrecy in Israel, AP Worldstream International News Wire, 23 June; Air Force launches two rockets, completes test successfully, PR Newswire, 24 June; First test flight for NMD program completed, M2 Presswire, 25 June; Weldon says US should consider Israel's Arrow for NMD, Defense Daily, 26 June; Japan, US to hold talks on missile defense, Kyodo News International News Wire, 15 July; DoD's limits on THAAD software cost program $3.2 million, Armed Forces Newswire Service, 22 July; Japan postpones decision on joining US missile plan, Kyodo News International News Wire, 9 August; US allowed to test-fire missiles in Western Australia, Central News Agency, 11 August; BMDO, Australia to test early warning, missile tracking systems, Defense Daily, 13 August.
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