Image via Missile Defense Agency, US Department of Defense

The Facts

  • On Tuesday, the United States Missile Defense Agency (MDA) successfully tested a defense system designed to identify and shoot down ballistic missiles using its Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system.
  • In the drill, the US Air Force launched a ballistic missile target from a C-17 military cargo aircraft flying north of Hawaii over the Pacific Ocean.
  • The THAAD weapon system, located in Kodiak Alaska, “detected, tracked, and intercepted the target” over the Pacific, according to the MDA statement.
thaad missile defense system lockheed martin test

Infographic source: Lockheed Martin

  • THAAD technology is rapidly deployable and capable of intercepting and destroying “ballistic missiles inside or outside the atmosphere during their final, or terminal, phase of flight.”
  • It destroys incoming missiles with “hit-to-kill” technology.
    • The “high altitude” component intercepts the missiles at a height that “mitigates effects of enemy weapons of mass destruction” before they reach the ground.
  • GIF of a THAAD system intercepting a target (full video via Lockheed Martin):

  • THAAD defends against short and intermediate-range ballistic missiles (IRBMs).
  • According to the Missile Defense Agency (MDA), “This was the 14th successful intercept in 14 attempts for the THAAD weapon system.”
    • Tuesday’s drill was the first time the THAAD system was tested against an intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM), according to Reuters.
  • The MDA said that, during the drill, “soldiers from the 11th Air Defense Artillery Brigade conducted launcher, fire control and radar operations using the same procedures they would use in an actual combat scenario. Soldiers operating the equipment were not aware of the actual target launch time.”
  • The Whim spoke with a defense official who explained that THAAD is designed for regional defense. The United States can deploy the technology to defend regions of the globe expecting threats from intermediate ranges. THAAD can detect incoming missiles from a distance of approximately 1,000km (just over 600 miles) and intercept them at a range of 200 km (125 miles).
    • The United States has already placed THAAD technology in Guam and South Korea to defend regional partners against North Korea.
      • The US would employ different systems to defend against long-range, intercontinental threats — such as a ballistic missile launched from North Korea to the continental United States.

The Context

“The successful demonstration of THAAD against an IRBM-range missile threat bolsters the country’s defensive capability against developing missile threats in North Korea and other countries around the globe and contributes to the broader strategic deterrence architecture.”

  • On 30 May, the MDA successfully intercepted an intercontinental ballistic missile target in its first live-fire test event against an ICBM-class target.
    • In the test, the MDA launched an ICBM-class target from the Marshall Islands. A radar in the Pacific Ocean identified and tracked the target, and the MDA launched a ground-based interceptor from California. The interceptor destroyed the target in a direct collision.


  • Lt. Gen. Sam Greaves, the Director of the MDA, said

“I couldn’t be more proud of the government and contractor team who executed this flight test today. 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.”

  • Lockheed Martin, the company that built the THAAD, released a statement on the success of the test. Richard McDaniel, the company’s vice president of upper tier integrated air and missile defense systems, said

“Our THAAD system performed flawlessly in today’s test and we are proud to support the Missile Defense Agency and US Army as they demonstrate the system’s unmatched capabilities. 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.”

William Spruance contributed to this report. 

The Whim News Team

The Whim News Desk

We'd rather be second and accurate than be first and wrong. The Whim News Desk is a dedicated team of researchers and investigators committed to presenting the news without bias. Follow us @TheWhimOnline for daily news coverage without the spin!

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