Production of Lockheed Martin Corp.’s THAAD -- the U.S. missile interceptor that’s spawned an international dispute with its deployment in South Korea -- was quietly halted for about four months last year because of a quality problem with a part.
With 158 of the interceptors already in the U.S. arsenal out of 428 planned through 2025, the halt in production didn’t affect the system that’s being deployed in South Korea amid controversy in that country and opposition from China.
But Lockheed’s production halt at its facility in Troy, Ala., was a setback for the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, the U.S.’s premier high-altitude missile defense system. The suspension of production began in August after the discovery that a connector failed multiple rounds of testing, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office.
The flaw was traced to a subcontractor that had changed its manufacturing processes without telling Lockheed Martin (IW 500/25), the GAO disclosed in its annual report on missile defense systems. As a result, Lockheed was able to deliver only 21 of 48 interceptors planned or 2016, according to the GAO.
The halt was imposed “to ensure all components met our rigorous quality standard,” Leah Garton, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Missile Defense Agency, said in an email. The GAO said that THAAD program officials have placed “a renewed emphasis on parts quality” that includes on-site verification of subcontractor processes.
While Lockheed “was not delivering interceptors during this period, they were continuing the production of unaffected components in order to rapidly deliver interceptors once the affected component was qualified,” Garton said.
Lockheed “designed a simpler connector that will provide greater reliability and producibility,” she said.
With the issue resolved, Lockheed spokesman Michael Friedman said in an email, “we are now increasing production and deliveries of THAAD interceptors and will complete” the late deliveries by August, he said.
THAAD interceptors were deployed to Guam in 2013. Launchers also have been deployed to South Korea as part of a high-profile deployment there to defend against North Korea’s short and medium-range ballistic missiles.
Two launchers were put in place in April, but South Korea’s new president Moon Jae-in suspended installation of four others. Chung Eui-yong, South Korea’s national security adviser, said in a briefing Friday that the country has no intention to fundamentally change its agreement to deploy the system.
China has opposed the THAAD deployment, saying it’s a risk to the security balance in the region. It retaliated against South Korea economically, including heightened customs scrutiny of Korean goods and barring cars with South Korean batteries from government subsidies. Those moves have eased since the election last month of Moon, who campaigned promising a reassessment of the missile-defense system.
By Tony Capaccio