THAAD Flight and Intercept Tests Since 2005 (July 10, 2016)

Flight tests of the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system since developmental testing resumed in 2005 and planned future tests.


Figure 1. THAAD intercept tests since 2005. In April 2012, the Director of Operational Test and Evaluation stated that “due to budget constraints within the agency, MDA had decided to slow the pace of THAAD testing to about one test every eighteen months.[1] 

FTT-01 (November 22, 2005:  First launch of an operationally-configured THAAD interceptor.[2]  The launch, conducted at the White Sands Test Range (WSMR), successfully demonstrated the operation of missile and kill vehicle, although no target was used and thus no intercept was attempted.  The THAAD TPY-2 radar does not appear to have participated in this test.

FTT-02 (May 11, 2006): Second flight test of operational THAAD interceptor.[3]  No actual target was used.  This was the first test to include all of the THAAD system components, including the TPY-2 radar.  The radar provided simulated target data to the THAAD fire control system.  Test was conducted at WSMR and was reported as successful.

FTT-03 (July 12, 2006):  First intercept attempt and first successful intercept using an operational interceptor.[4]  The target was a non-separating, short-range missile (a Hera missile) and the intercept took place in the high endoatmosphere.  It was an integrated system test in which the THAAD TPY-2 radar acquired and tracked the target and provided in-flight updates.  Test was conducted at WSMR.

FTT-04 (September 13, 2006): No test. This was to be an intercept test against a short-range separating target, but the target failed and was destroyed about two minutes after launch.  The target failure occurred before the THAAD interceptor could be launched, and so no interceptor launch took place.[5]  This was the last THAAD test held at WSMR.

FTT-06 (January 26, 2007): Successful intercept test of a non-separating short-range target.[6]  This was the first THAAD test conducted at the Pacific Missile Range Facility (PMRF) in Hawaii.  The target was described as being a SCUD-Like missile and the intercept took place in the high-endoatmosphere.  This was the first test in which soldiers from a US Army unit that would eventually operate THAAD operated all of the THAAD equipment.

FTT-07 (April 5, 2007): THAAD successfully intercepted a short-range non-separating missile target at PMRF.[7]  The intercept took place at a mid-endoatmospheric altitude against a Scud-like target.  The intercept took place about two minutes after the interceptor was launched.

FTT-05 (June 26, 2007):  Non-intercept flight test at PMRF, and the lowest altitude test so far.[8]  The test was intended to test the performance of the missile and kill vehicle in the low endo-atmosphere, where greater (relative to earlier, higher-altitude tests) atmospheric dynamic pressure and heating occur.  There was no target present.   The test was reportedly successful.

FTT-08 (October 26, 2007):  A successful intercept test.[9]  This was the first exo-atmospheric intercept attempt using the operationally-configured THAAD interceptor.  The target was a short-range non-separating missile representing a Scud-like target.   The test was conducted at the PMRF in Hawaii.

FTT-09 (June 25, 2008): A successful intercept test at PMRF.[10]  The test target was a separating short-range missile launched from a C-17 aircraft.  This was the first successful intercept of a separating target.  According to the DOT&E, the target was a “simple, spin-stabilized, non-reorienting” reentry vehicle and the intercept took place in the low-endoatmosphere.[11]  (Another source describes the intercept  as taking place in the mid-endoatmosphere.[12])   The THAAD system was operated manually by soldiers using its semi-automatic mode.

FTT-10 (September 17, 2008): No test. A planned salvo intercept of two THAAD interceptors against a single target did not take place when the target missile failed.[13]  The target missile failed before either THAAD interceptor could be launched.

FTT-10a (March 18, 2009): A successful salvo intercept attempt at PMRF.[14]  Two THAAD interceptors were fired at a short-range separating target missile, with the first interceptor hitting the target warhead in the mid-endoatmosphere.  This test was a combined operational (the first for THAAD) and developmental test, and also involved an Aegis ship providing cuing information to the THAAD system.[15]

FTT-11 (December 11, 2009):  No test. Test did not occur due to the failure of the target missile motor to ignite after being dropped from a C-17 aircraft.[16]  This was to have been the first THAAD test against a “complex separating” short-range missile target.[17]  The target would have had “a relatively low infrared signature and radar cross section.”[18]  According to the DOT&E (2010 Annual Report) the objectives of this test were added to the future FTT-12 test.[19]  According to the GAO, this test’s objective of demonstrating the TPY-2 radar’s advanced discrimination capability was moved to FTT-12.[20]

FTT-14 (June 28, 2010):  Successful intercept of a short-range non-separating missile at PMRF.[21]  This test was moved forward (using a target planned for Airborne Laser testing) when target problems caused FTT-11 to fail and FTT-12 to be delayed.[22]   The intercept occurred in the low-endoatmosphere.  This was the lowest altitude intercept for THAAD so far.  According to the DOT&E, the intercept took place at “a high lead angle and in a high-dynamic-pressure environment.”[23]

FTT-12 (October 4, 2011): Two THAAD interceptors successfully intercepted two short-range missiles in “nearly simultaneous” engagements at PMRF.”[24]  This was the first operational test for THAAD.[25]  There does not appear to be any further information available on the nature of the target, but the transfer of objectives from FTT-11 suggests that at least one of the targets could have been  a separating, complex target.

FTT-13 (Cancelled):  This test, which was scheduled for 2012, would have been the first intercept test against a medium-range target.  However, the test was cancelled “because of budgetary concerns and test efficiency.”[26]  The planned target was described as “a complex separating medium range target with associated objects.[27]

Flight Test Integrated-01 (FTI-01), (October 25, 2012):[28]  This test involved Patriot, Aegis and THAAD intercept attempts against three ballistic missile and two cruise missile targets.  Although the test was labeled as an integrated test, each of the defenses basically operated independently of each other.[29]  The test was conducted at the Kwajalein Atoll test site.  In the THAAD part of this test, THAAD successfully intercepted an Extended Long-Range Air Launch Target ((E-LRALT) medium-range missile.  This was the first intercept of a medium-range missile (1,000-3,000 km range) by THAAD.  The THAAD system was cued by a second TPY-2 radar operating in a forward-based mode.

Flight Test Operational-01 (FTO-01), (September 10, 2013):[30]  An integrated, operational test involving THAAD and Aegis BMD intercepts of two medium-range missile targets.  One of the medium-range missile targets was successfully intercepted by a THAAD interceptor.  A second THAAD interceptor was salvo launched along with an Aegis SM-3 Block IA interceptor at the second medium-range target.  The Aegis interceptor was fired first and successfully destroyed the target.  Both engagements were cued by a TPY-2 radar operating in a forward-based mode.

FTT-11a (cancelled): This test was initially scheduled for 3Q FY 2013, and subsequently delayed to 3Q FY 2015.[31]  It was to be an exo-atmospheric engagement of a complex separating target short-range ballistic missile.[32]  It does not appear FY 2015 or later budget documents, and it seems likely that it was replaced by the first intercept attempt of FTO-02 E2a.

Flight Test Operational-02 Event 2 (FTO-02 E2) (No Test, then Cancelled):   An attempt to hold this test on October 4, 2015 was postponed due to bad weather.  According to one source: “Thunderstorms, heavy rain, and high winds can pose a danger to airborne sensors and can also impact data collection asset [sic].”[33]  It was subsequently assessed as a “no test” due to deployment problems with its air-launched target.  The test was replanned and conducted as FTO-02 E2a on November 1, 2015.

Flight Test Operational-02 Event 2 (FTO-02 E2) (November 1, 2015): Two intercept attempts by THAAD, both reportedly successful.[34]  The first intercept attempt was on a short-range air-launched ballistic missile.  This was likely an exo-atmospheric intercept, since it was in part intended to provide a debris field background for a subsequent Aegis SM-3 Intercept attempt. The second target was a MRBM, and both an Aegis BM-3 Block IB TU interceptor and a THAAD interceptor were fired at it.  The SM-3 interceptor failed shortly after launch, but the THAAD interceptor successfully intercepted the target.

FTT-15 (3Q, FY 2017): Endo-atmospheric intercept of a medium-range target using Aegis cuing. [35]   First test of THAAD “against a complex target scene.”[36]  Also described as “THAAD endo-intercept of a complex separating Medium-Range Ballistic (MRBM) target with Associated Objects.”[37]

FTT-18 (3Q, 2017): First THAAD test against an intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM).[38]  (IRBM range = 3,000-5,500 km).  Test delayed from 4Q FY 2015 due to “testing prioritization,” even though THAAD has been deployed in Guam to counter North Korean IRBMs since April 2013.[39]

Flight Test Operational-03 E2 (FTO-03 E2) (1Q, FY 2019): Operational test.[40]

FTT-16 (3Q, 2020): Endo-atmospheric intercept of a unitary short-range missile with high reentry heating. [41]

FTT-21 (4Q, 2021):[42]

FTT-17 (delayed until after 2021 or cancelled): Intercept of a target with a range near the maximum for medium range targets.[43]  Also described as “THAAD Operational engagement of an IRBM with AOs using remote engagement (Aegis BMD) authorized.”[44]


[1] Statement by J. Michael Gilmore, DOT&E, Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, Senate Armed Committee, April 25, 2012.

[2] “Successful THAAD Interceptor Launch Achieved,” MDA News Release, November 22, 2005.

[3] “Missile Defense Interceptor Completes Successful Developmental Flight Test,” MDA News Release, May 11, 2006.

[4] “Successful Terminal High Altitude Area Defense Intercept Flight Achieved,” MDA News Release, July 12, 2006.

[5] “Target Missile Malfunction Halts THAAD Flight Test in New Mexico,” MDA News Release, September 13, 2006.

[6] “Successful Missile Defense Intercept Test Takes Place Off Hawaii,” MDA News Release, January 27, 2007.

[7] “Successful Missile Defense Intercept Test Takes Place Off Hawaii,” MDA News Release, April 6, 2007

[8] “Missile Defense Agency Conducts Successful Interceptor “Fly-Out” Test,” MDA News Release, June 27, 2007.

[9] “Successful Missile Defense Intercept Test Takes Place Near Hawaii,” MDA News Release, October 27, 2007.

[10] “Successful Missile Defense Intercept Test Takes Place Off Hawaii,” MDA News Release, June 25, 2008.

[11] Director Operational Test and Evaluation (DOT&E), 2008 Annual Report, p. 257.

[12] Colonel William L. Lamb, “Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) Program, Briefing Slides, 13th Annual AUSA Tactical Missiles Conference, April 25, 2011, slide 6.

[13] “Missile Defense Test Conducted,” MDA News Release, September 17, 2008.

[14] “Successful Intercept in Missile Defense Flight Test,” MDA News Release, March 18, 2009.

[15] DOT&E, 2009 Annual Report, p. 249.

[16] Missile Defense Test Conducted,” MDA News Release, December 11, 2009.

[17] DOT&E, 2010 Annual Report,  p. 237.

[18] Statement by J. Michael Gilmore, DOT&E, Strategic Forces Subcommittee, House Armed Services Committee, April 15, 2010.

[19] DOT&E, 2010 Annual Report, p. 237.

[20] Governmental Accountability Office (GAO), GAO-11-372, p. 111.

[21] “THAAD System Intercepts Target in Successful Missile Defense Flight Test,” MDA New Release, June 29, 2010

[22] Statement by J. Michael Gilmore, DOT&E, Strategic Forces Committee, House Armed Services Committee, March 31, 2011.

[23] DOT&E, 2010 Annual Report, p . 237.

[24] “THAAD Weapon System Achieves Intercept of Two Targets at Pacific Missile Range Facility,” PR Newswire, October 5, 2011.

[25] GAO-11-372, p. 111; GAO-12-486, p.93.

[26] GAO-12-386, p. 89.

[27] Statement by J. Michael Gilmore, DOT&E, Strategic Forces Committee, House Armed Services Committee, March 31, 2011.

[28]“Ballistic Missile Defense System Engages Five Targets Simultaneously During Largest Missile Defense Test in History,” MDA News Release, October 25, 2012.

[29] Statement of DOT&E J. Michael Gilmore, Senate Armed Services Committee, May 9, 2013.

[30] “Successful Missile Defense Test Against Multiple Targets,” MDA News Release, September 10, 2013.

[31] Gilmore, 2011; Department of Defense, President’s Budget Submission (PB), Missile Defense Agency (MDA), FY 2012, RDT&E, p. 2-77; PB FY 2014, MDA, RDT&E, p. 2a-67

[32] PB FY 2013, MDA, RDT&E, p. 422

[33] Jason Sherman, “Bad Weather Prompts MDA to Postpone Major Operational Test,” Inside the Pentagon, October 2015.

[34] Missile Defense Agency, “Ballistic Missile Defense System Demonstrates Layered Defense While Conducting Multiple Engagements in Operational Test,” News Release, November 1, 2015; Jason Sherman, “New SM-3 Block IB Variant Fails First Flight Test,” Inside the Pentagon, November 5, 2015.

[35] Statement by J. Michael Gilmore, DOT&E, Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, Senate Armed Committee, April 25, 2012; PB, FY 2014, MDA, RDT&E, p. 2a-66,.  Date of test from PB FY2017, MDA, RDT&E, p. 2a-813.

[36] PB FY 2017, MDA, RDT&E, p. 2a-805.

[37] PB FY 2012, MDA, RDT&E, Vol. 2, p. 540.

[38] Date of test from PB FY2017, MDA, RDT&E, p. 2a-813.

[39] GAO-16-339, p. 56.  Original testing date from PB FY 2015, MDA, RDT&E, p. 2a-113

[40] Date of test from PB FY2017, MDA, RDT&E, p. 2a-813.

[41] Gilmore, 2013.  Date of test from PB FY2017, MDA, RDT&E, p. 2a-813.

[42] Date of test from PB FY2017, MDA, RDT&E, p. 2a-813.

[43] Gilmore, 2013.

[44] PB FY 2012, MDA, RDT&E, p. 2a-138.

Leave a comment


  1. jetpen

     /  June 4, 2017

    One has to wonder whether any of the exo-atmospheric intercept tests, especially tests such as the GMD intercept of an ICBM on May 30 2017, leave debris orbiting at a dangerous altitude. The Wikipedia page on ICBMs says they have an apogee of 750 mi. The International Space Station orbits at 250 mi. Seems like intercept tests may be an awful source of space junk that poses a danger.

  2. MDA is aware of the space debris problem and apparently tries to minimize long-lasting debris. At least for the GMD intercepts for which information is available, although the apogee of he target may be high, the actual intercept takes place at lower altitudes after the apogee when both the target and the interceptor are descending.
    This may be somewhat unrealistic in terms of how an actual intercept would take place. Whether realism concerns could lead them to conduct tests that create more debris is publicly unknown (I think), but my guess is probably note, at lest for the near future, as there are many more serious realism issues,
    George Lewis

  3. J_kies

     /  June 7, 2017

    MDA actually over compensates for the debris generation as its analytic tools have insufficient fidelity to the physics to permit planning more marginal events. All events have collision state vectors are well below local horizon with magnitude well less than orbital. Any large debris have minimal deflections from pre-impact trajectories and tiny debris have such low Beta that they rapidly slow and reenter. None of the ‘trackable’ debris from BMD tests were observed to persist more than 2 orbits.


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