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Theater Defense Missile Fails 5th Test

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 14, 1998 – The Theater High Altitude Air Defense System failed a fifth test May 12, but DoD is determined to make the program work, said Pentagon spokesman Ken Bacon.

The missile, designed to intercept and destroy ballistic missiles, blew up five seconds into a test flight. Debris landed two miles down range from the launching pad at White Sands Missile Range, N.M.

Each of the five tests of the system have failed in different ways, Bacon said, leading DoD to conclude there is "no single systemic reason apparent from these tests as to why the failures took place." Officials will study this latest failure and try to find out why it happened. Bacon said once this occurs, Defense Secretary William S. Cohen, Acquisition Undersecretary Jacques Gansler, and Air Force Lt. Gen. Lester Lyles, director of the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization, will discuss the program and its future.

Bacon said every piece of intelligence indicates the United States needs a system to protect U.S. service members from theater ballistic missile attack. "[The Theater High Altitude Air Defense System] is a program designed to address an important and growing threat, and therefore we will continue on the program to make it work," he said during a press conference.

A booster malfunction caused the first test failure. Officials attributed the second to a miscommunication between a range radar system and the missile. The third test failed because a system that was supposed to change the attitude of the missile didn't work right. The fourth failed because an "eye" in the missile became blurred. Officials do not believe the fifth failure is related to the others.

Bacon said DoD still has faith in Lockheed Martin Co., the prime contractor of the system. "I think the program has strong managers, but one of the things that happens after every failure is that people sit down and look at the entire program, and we'll do that again this time," Bacon said. "But the fact is that we need a program that does what this one is designed to do. And that's a powerful reason for continuing."

DoD is working on other theater missile defense systems. The Army also is developing the Patriot III system; the Navy effort is called the Theater Wide system.

U.S. experience during Desert Storm focused attention on the need for theater ballistic missile defense. While U.S. forces had some success in knocking down Iraqi Scud missiles, more needed to be done, according to a DoD lessons learned report. DoD has spent $3.2 billion on the Theater High Altitude Air Defense System.

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