Recent news has centered on talks between the U.S. and South Korea about potentially deploying Lockheed Martin’s Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile defense system in South Korea. This eye-opening news comes on the heels of a recent North Korean rocket launch. The U.S. says the THAAD defense system would be deployed to enhance South Korea’s missile defense capabilities.
Upon hearing this news, one might be compelled to learn more about THAAD. Its core purpose is to defend U.S. troops, allied forces, population centers, and critical infrastructure against short- and medium-range ballistic missiles. THAAD can be described as a land-based element of the Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) system that is intended to be both globally transportable and rapidly deployable. Incoming missiles can be intercepted and destroyed—both inside and outside the atmosphere—during their final, or terminal, phase of flight. Furthermore, THAAD is interoperable with other BMD systems. Lockheed Martin boasts of a 100% success rate in flight testing, demonstrating superior performance.
The process that THAAD utilizes to intercept a missile can be described in four steps. First, radar detects an incoming threat. The target is then identified and engaged. The launcher then fires an interceptor in the missile’s direction. Lastly, the interceptor uses kinetic energy—also known as “hit-to-kill” technology—to destroy the incoming missile.
The THAAD system consists of interceptors, launchers, radar, a fire control unit, and THAAD-specific support equipment. Launchers are truck-mounted and highly mobile. These launchers each have eight interceptors, which can be fired and rapidly reloaded. THAAD employs Army/Navy Transportable Radar Surveillance (AN/TPY-2), which is the world’s largest air-transportable X-band radar. It can search, track, and discriminate objects as well as provide updated tracking data to the interceptor. The fire control unit is considered to be the communication and data-management backbone. It links THAAD components together, as well as linking THAAD to external command and control nodes and to the entire BMDS.
Although a system like THAAD may seem captivating to some, there is another side that is often overlooked. Simply put, none of this technology would be possible without the hard work and dedication of the engineers who were behind it all. There is no question that the state-of-the-art engineering that enables this technology was no small feat. And in today’s technology-driven world, it is the engineers who do the work so others can reap the benefits. Perhaps it is time to appreciate engineers for what they do.