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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 27, June 1998

Missile Defence Developments

Following the fifth consecutive failed test-flight of Lockheed Martin's Theater High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-ballistic missile interceptor system in early May (see last issue), the company has declared its willingness to contribute funds to cover the costs of future failures. The US Army is seeking to develop THAAD as the centrepiece of its contribution to a possible US National Missile Defence (NMD) system. According to Lockheed Martin's President and Chief Operating Officer Peter Teets, addressing the Aerospace Finance '98 Symposium in Arlington, Virginia, on 9 June:

"We have indeed been...strongly criticized for performance on the program [and] we...have reached an agreement...to share in the cost of any future failures... [W]e will be dedicated to making the THAAD program successful. I'm confident that we will, and that the program will not be terminated."

By late June, no decision had been made on the schedule for future tests of the system.

On 3 June, the US Air Force successfully conducted preliminary testing on a high-energy laser module being considered as an air-launched anti-ballistic missile system. According to Lt. Col. David Harrell, speaking to reporters on 11 June, the initial tests were highly significant: "There are some sceptics out there that believe we can't propagate a laser beam through the atmosphere. That's just not correct..."

If testing proceeds on schedule, full test-firing of the system - known as the Attack Laser Aircraft - will take place in 2002, with deployment possible as early as 2008. The system would be carried on modified 747s. Reports referred to an anticipated total project cost of $11 billion. The programme is being developed at the Space and Missile Systems Center's Airborne Laser Office at Kirkland Air Force Base in New Mexico, where a major new laboratory dedicated to research into laser weapons is expected to open in 18 months.

On 3 June, the Kyodo news agency reported that Japan's Defense agency was planning to undertake a major technical study into options for a ballistic missile defence (BMD) system. According to Kyodo, the study would take place through Financial Year 1999, commencing on 1 April 1999. For a number of years, the US has been urging Japan to work with it in the development of a BMD system in the region. A decision on the level of Japan's political and financial commitment to such a system was postponed in the summer of 1998, reportedly due to budgetary pressures.

Reports: Defense Agency to launch technical study of TMD, Kyodo, 3 June; Laser Lab to explore new technology, Associated Press, 4 June; Lockheed Martin agrees to share in THAAD failure costs, Defense Daily, 9 June; Air Force tests laser technology, Associated Press, 11 June.

© 1998 The Acronym Institute.

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