Lockheed Martin providing THAAD to US and Saudi Arabia
On 1 April the US DoD announced a modification to a contract with Lockheed Martin for the production of Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) interceptors, bringing the value of the contract to $3.8 billion, of which $1.5 billion covers foreign military sales to Saudi Arabia.
THAAD is an anti-ballistic missile defence system designed to shoot down short to intermediate range ballistic missiles in descent or re-entry at a range of 200km. It carries no warhead, destroying incoming missiles via the kinetic energy of impact, so as to minimise the risk of detonating conventional-warhead ballistic missiles. A kinetic impact also carries no chance of detonating a nuclear-tipped ballistic missile.
First proposed in 1987, the first THAAD interceptors were deployed in 2008.
Lockheed is currently pushing for funding to develop an extended-range version of the THAAD to counter hypersonic glide vehicles, such as the Chinese WU-14, which are being developed to exploit the gap between high and low altitude missile defences.
Currently, the THAAD-ER is an industry concept only, though the company remains optimistic that the Missile Defense Agency will provide funding soon to match the weapons development of potential adversaries.
However, the Pentagon has been researching technologies such as directed energy weapons and railguns as to whether they would be better solutions to missile defence, even if they are not expected to be available before the mid-2020s.
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