Thursday, July 13, 2006

THAAD Flies Over Congressional Democrats' Obstacles

Las Cruces Sun - It was a picture-perfect pre-dawn Wednesday and a picture-perfect launch at White Sands Missile Range.

Hundreds of miles above southern New Mexico, it was a picture-perfect impact between two missiles.

The morning sky above the Tularosa Basin was painted in every color of the rainbow — hues ranging from iridescent purples to emerald greens and pastel blues, pinks and electric whites against the darkness of space.

The pre-dawn art show was the result of the third of five tests planned at White Sands Missile Range to determine the effectiveness of THAAD — Terminal High Altitude Area Defense missile. And military officials said the test went better than they could have hoped.

"This was phenomenal," said U.S. Army Col. Charles Driessnack, the project manager for the Missile Defense Agency's THAAD program. "It performed as expected."

The test demonstrated the THAAD's ability to "completely destroy that warhead so that no chemical or nuclear residue would contaminate areas" below the explosion, Driessnack said.

The THAAD missile system was designed by Lockheed Martin, and several company employees and system designers were on hand to witness the test.

During the test firing, the airspace above the 3,200-square-mile missile range was cleared, including orbiting satellites, said Jim Eckles, a spokesman for the missile range.

Also, roughly 80 to 90 families were evacuated from surrounding ranch land during the test and traffic was halted on area highways.

The target — a Hera missile that closely mimics the characteristics of the more infamous SCUD missiles — was launched shortly after 5:17 a.m. Wednesday. It took to the skies from a location on the far northern reaches of the bombing range's territory, about 100 miles north of the Organ Mountains, 25 miles north of Highway 380.

It carried a canister of inert material to simulate chemical or biological elements that could be mounted on an enemy missile, Driessnack said. The target missile rose roughly 200 miles above the Earth before beginning the final stage descent toward land.

The THAAD was launched close to the southern end, on the east side of the Organ Mountains. The object of the THAAD missile is to provide a weapon to intercept incoming missiles during the "terminal" phase, when only seconds remain before it would strike an intended target.

A crowd of roughly 75 spectators, military personnel and defense department contractors, gathered near the WSMR Museum in the predawn hours to view the test.

As the target missile launched, it streaked into the still-dark sky, looking like a comet with a long, white tail. As it got to the second firing stage, red fire bloomed out of the leading edge of the missile.

Minutes later, the THAAD was launched, giving a little pirouette before speeding upward.

"Get up there baby," one observer shouted.

For a couple of minutes, the crowd held their collective breath, waiting to see if the impact would occur as planned.

When the target missile was destroyed, sending a brilliant white, mushroom-like cloud into the dark sky, the crowd began to applaud and cheer wildly.

" We smashed it," several people cheered as the rainbow colored contrail gave way to the cotton ball cloud of destruction above.