Thaad Missile Defense System

Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, was made by Lockheed Martin and put into use less than ten years ago. It is now a major part of the US Ballistic Missile Defense System.

It can stop and destroy ballistic missions as they fall toward their target inside and outside the Earth’s atmosphere. The program is one of the company’s greatest defense successes.

In its first 10 years of service, THAAD had a 100% success rate, with 15 intercepts out of 15 attempts. Even though it is a reasonably new weapon system, many countries’ armies are interested in using it.

On the other hand, several countries are anxious about technology, which almost caused South Korea to lose its relationship with China.

THAAD’S Working System

FILE PHOTO: A U.S. Army Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) weapon system is seen on Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, October 26, 2017. U.S. Army/Capt. Adan Cazarez/Handout via REUTERS.


The Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, is an anti-ballistic missile defense system made in the United States. It is one of the newest defense technologies in the United state’s arsenal. 

THAAD works like other surface-to-air and missile interceptor systems. It can stop short-, medium, and intermediate-range ballistic missiles.

However, a distinguishing feature of the Lockheed Martin system is that it intercepts the devices during their descent phase.

THAAD’s fire control and support equipment locates, verifies, and starts the launching procedure when an X-Band active electronically-scanned array (AESA) radar starts the interception and finds the target projectile.

With an infrared seeker head, the THAAD missile is fired from the system’s mobile erector launcher in a hit-to-kill intercept.

Lockheed Martin, the company that makes the system, says that THAAD doesn’t have a real warhead; instead, it uses the high speed of the impact to destroy incoming enemy missiles in a downward direction. The power to destroy comes from the high speed, not an ammunition load.

So, the THAAD system provides a strong defensive shield to protect high-value strategic or tactical sites like airports or crowded town centers from mass attacks.

THAAD systems are anticipated to have a range of 125 miles, while the real data for Lockheed’s system is classified.

They can intercept enemy missiles at both endo and exo-atmospheric heights, with a maximum altitude of 153 kilometers above the surface of the Earth. And it accomplishes this while traveling at an astounding hypersonic velocity of Mach 8.

Estimates from 2015 say that a THAAD battery system includes at least six launcher vehicles, each with eight missiles, two mobile tactical operations centers, and a ground-based radar. Each battery costs about $800 million.

How Successful is The THAAD? 

In response to Iraq’s successful attacks with Russian-made Scud missiles during the Gulf Wars in 1991, the US Army began the Program Development and Risk Reduction phase of the THAAD systems the following year.

Then, after a lot of research, the THAAD program moved into the engineering and manufacturing development phase at the turn of the century.

From the start, working on the anti-ballistic missile defense system was a massive success for both Lockheed Martin and the US Army.

In 2004, separate flight tests started at Lockheed Martin’s factories in Alabama and New Mexico’s White Sands Missile Range.

The first flight test of the whole system—missile, launcher, radar, and fire control system—took place in 2006. The following year, a successful intercept test in the high-endo-atmosphere took place.

Despite early plans to deploy the system around 2010, the system’s successful tests necessitated an unplanned expedition. Lockheed Martin was given a contract in early 2007 for the first two production THAAD systems, which were completed two years later.

The United States Army then activated the first THAAD battery unit in May 2008, followed by the second in October 2009.

Throughout the 2010s, contracts for the continuous development of the system and related support equipment remained. And at the end of 2015, the United States Army operated five Terminal High Altitude Area Defense systems. 

In the same year, the service also constructed a THAAD training center at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, to facilitate the employment of the successful program.

International Buyers of THAAD’s System. 

The US Defense Security Cooperation Agency approved the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense sale to Qatar and the United Arab Emirates in 2012. It was the first sale of the weapon to a foreign military.

In the same year, the United Arab Emirates began training units, and by early 2022, they were the first nation to utilize the systems in military action.

During a deadly attack by Houthi terrorists, an Islamist rebel organization in Abu Dabhi, the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense System intercepted and destroyed a medium-range ballistic missile aimed at an Emirati oil plant close to an Air Base.

The attack used cruise missiles, ballistic missiles, unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones. The Emirati Embassy in Washington, DC, didn’t respond to a request for comment, and anonymous outside sources were the only ones who could confirm what happened.

 The system has been continually deployed worldwide since then, including in Guam, Israel, Japan, and South Korea, with multi-billion dollar deals.

 A home run for Lockheed Martin, the company achieved the milestone of delivering 100 interceptors to the United States and its allied nations in July 2015.

 Still, not all nations are happy with the existence and use of this powerful weapon. 

China’s Problem with The system.


 Discussions between the United States and South Korea to acquire THAAD systems began in early 2016 due to North Korea’s growing nuclear missile threat.

 Soon after, China’s ambassador to Seoul implied that the defense system deployment could potentially destroy relations between South Korea and China.

 Instead of the powerful kinetic punch, China’s main worry regarding THAAD is the system’s surveillance capabilities.

 According to the spokesperson, the use of THAAD would give Washington Earlier warning and tracking of Chinese intercontinental ballistic missiles, thus downgrading the nation’s ability to target the United States.

 Even Russia was threatened by the ballistic missile defense radar and denounced its use in nearby European nations like Poland. 

Once the negotiations between the United States and South Korea were in full swing, China wasted no time implementing informal sanctions across various industries. This economic pressure on South Korea aimed to reverse its decision.

Because the THAAD system was deployed on a piece of land transferred from the Korean grocery store chain Lotte to the South Korean government, the company inadvertently became the epicenter of the geopolitical dispute.

 Consequently, Beijing implemented an informal ban on group tourism travel and went as far as staging a public bulldozing of Korean spirit bottles.

Even Korean cultural exports, like K-pop and K-dramas, once a mainstay in Chinese popular entertainment, were erased mainly from content platforms, and several artists faced visa restrictions. 

To relieve the economic strain on the targeted South Korean industries and to normalize the relationship between the nations, a new administration began negotiating a solution to the impasse in the fall of 2017.

The agreement between China and South Korea called for the resumption of normal economic relations through the commitment to “The Three No’s” plan.

This deal prohibited any additional deployment of THAAD batteries, no South Korean integration into the United States-led regional missile defense system, and no trilateral alliance with the United States or Japan. 

From then on, the Chinese and South Korean relationship has significantly improved. Nevertheless, while the renewal of regular connections has seen an uptick in Chinese tourists in South Korea, the sanctions put in place can still be felt to this day. 

It is estimated that the South Korean tourism industry may have lost up to 24 billion dollars because of the implementation of the THAAD system. 

According to cultural experts, the dispute over the Lockheed Martin weapon may also have helped spur some of the growth in South Korean culture in other countries, including America, as it forced the industry to look to other markets.