Lockheed Proposes THAAD Variant For Hypersonic Interceptor

The THAAD kill vehicle includes a BAE Systems-designed sensor.
Credit: BAE Systems

Lockheed Martin will propose to adapt the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system to intercept hypersonic glide vehicles under a program launched last December by the U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA), a company executive said Aug. 3. 

MDA expects to release a request for prototype proposals by year’s end or early next year for the Regional Glide Phase Weapon System (RGPWS). The agency has previously selected Lockheed’s proposed variant of THAAD, called Dart, as one of five candidates under consideration for the Hypersonic Defense Weapon System (HDWS).

“We are going forward with that Dart concept,” Sarah Reeves, vice president of Lockheed’s Missile Defense Programs, told reporters during a video conference. “It uses the existing infrastructure we have today.”

THAAD is designed as an endoatmospheric interceptor, with a limited ability for exoatmospheric intercepts. But that ability to strike incoming missiles within the atmosphere makes THAAD’s kill vehicle suitable for defending against hypersonic glide vehicles, which remain within the atmosphere for most of the glide phase. 

Lockheed has described Dart as an “evolution” of the THAAD design. The goal would be to extend the range of the interceptor to confront the incoming hypersonic glide vehicle before the final, nose-down maneuver to enter the terminal phase. 

“We want to be able to hit these threats as far out as we can,” Reeves said, “and the glide-phase intercept is the best way to defend as far out as we can.”

RGPWS still poses new challenges for the THAAD launch system, which entered service with the U.S. Army 12 years ago. In March, MDA revealed that the first version of RGPWS would be deployed on U.S. Navy ships, so the Dart evolution must be compatible with a maritime environment. 

Lockheed’s Dart also is likely to face competition from Raytheon. MDA selected a proposed new variant of the Raytheon SM-3 called Hawk for the HDWS. Raytheon has confirmed that Hawk is the company’s proposed solution for the RGPWS contract, and says its sea-based pedigree makes it a good fit. 

MDA’s draft request for prototype proposals for RGPWS calls for delivering a prototype system for a nonintercept flight test, along with modeling and simulation analysis to confirm that the system could shoot down a hypersonic glide vehicle.

Steve Trimble

Steve covers military aviation, missiles and space for the Aviation Week Network, based in Washington DC.