This week three U.S. military services collaborated in a picture-perfect interception of two ballistic-missile targets, using land-based, sea-based and orbital elements to demonstrate how a layered defense could defeat the worst threats facing U.S. forces. The targets intercepted in the test realistically mimicked the flight characteristics of medium-range missiles being developed by Iran, North Korea, and other volatile countries — missiles that are one day expected to carry nuclear warheads. The systems used to intercept them were both built by Lockheed Martin, signaling that company’s emergence as the world’s leading integrator of advanced missile-defense solutions.
In contrast to the uneven performance of the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system that the U.S. has constructed in California and Alaska, the two Lockheed Martin systems have compiled an impressive track record of testing successes in coping with increasingly challenging threats. The Navy’s sea-based Aegis combat system used to down one ballistic target this week has accomplished 26 intercepts in 32 tests at sea. The Army’s land-based Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system has accomplished 11 successful intercepts in 14 tests since 2006 — which is essentially a perfect record, since the remaining three exercises were aborted due to target malfunctions.
Both Aegis and THAAD were integrated by prime-contractor Lockheed Martin, using munitions and other components from subcontractors such as Raytheon. Lockheed and Raytheon have been bitter rivals in just about every competition the Pentagon has held to develop defenses against hostile aircraft and missiles, but that does not seem to have impeded their ability to collaborate when teaming made sense. For instance, Raytheon supplied the Standard Missile-3 interceptor used by the Aegis system in this week’s test, and the terminal radar used by the ground-mobile THAAD system.
However, it is Lockheed Martin that gets credit for combining diverse inputs from numerous suppliers into integrated defensive systems. It has repeatedly bested Raytheon and other contenders seeking to win missile-defense contracts, based on its reputation for building highly reliable defensive systems. The centerpiece of Lockheed’s missile-defense franchise is Aegis, which has evolved to a point where it threatens to displace the Boeing-Raytheon GMD system as the nation’s leading counter to intercontinental ballistic missiles.
In addition to building many of the land- and sea-based elements associated with an advanced defensive system and successfully integrating them, Lockheed Martin is also the leading supplier of satellites for detecting and analyzing enemy missile launches. Those overhead assets would play a vital role in making any future layered defense system effective against whatever rogue states choose to shoot our way.
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