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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 26, May 1998

THAAD Fails Again

On 12 May, one of the key systems in America's extensive ballistic missile defence (BMD) development programme - the Army's Theater High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) interceptor-missile system - failed its fifth consecutive test-flight. According to a Pentagon statement, the missile failed to hit its target and "impacted on the White Sands Missile Range [in New Mexico] about two miles north of the launch site... Analysis of the flight data is under way to determine the cause of the malfunction..." Pentagon spokesperson Kenneth Bacon told reporters defiantly (12 May): "We will continue to test the program until we get it right. No one ever said this was an easy program..." His remarks were echoed the same day by the Director of the Pentagon's Ballistic Missile Defense Organization (BMDO), Air Force Lt. Gen. Lester Lyles: "This is too critical to the nation to do anything but press on. If we have a failure, we'll just analyze the reasons and press on. It's not a final exam..."

The Administration's Fiscal Year 1999 Defense Budget request seeks $822 million for continued THAAD development. Total project-development estimates reportedly run at $15 billion for acquisition and, over a 20 year service-life, $18 billion to operate. On 22 May, it was reported that the House of Representatives would be seeking to amend the 1999 Defense Authorization Bill to require the Administration to seek an alternative contractor should the current system - being developed by Lockheed Martin - continue to perform inadequately.

Reports: Anti-missile system test fails, Associated Press, 12 May; Anti-missile program suffers fifth failure, Reuters, 12 May; House told to mandate backup contractor for THAAD, Armed Forces Newswire Service, 21 May.

© 1998 The Acronym Institute.

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