In April the Missile Defense Agency announced a successful missile defense tracking exercise at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico. Subsequent events have given the test particular weight.

Conducted in cooperation with the Army, the test demonstrated interoperability between the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) and low-altitude Patriot weapons systems.

The display could have far-reaching consequences. With tensions high on the Korean Peninsula, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2019 would add $175 million to accelerate the integration of Patriot and THAAD to meet the requirements of the commander of U.S. Forces in Korea.

Following the test, MDA reported only that it had been successful. C4ISRNET asked MDA Director Lt. Gen. Samuel Greaves to take a deeper dive through details of the test and explain what had been learned.

C4ISRNET: What did the demonstration entail? How, specifically, did you test and prove interoperability?

LT. GEN. SAMUEL GREAVES: Completion of the FTX-35 interoperability requirement satisfies section 1675 of the 2016 NDAA for interoperability and integration “among the covered air and missile defense capabilities of the United States,” i.e., Patriot and THAAD (or Aegis) missile defense systems. It demonstrated the ability of the two systems to interoperate as designed.

During FTX-35, a live short-range Lynx missile target was launched from White Sands Missile Range and was detected and tracked by THAAD’s Army-Navy/Transportable Surveillance Radar Model 2 [AN/TPV-2]. Patriot similarly detected and tracked the target.

Both THAAD and Patriot exchanged real-time data and engagement coordination through tactical data links to verify interoperability between the weapon systems.

C4ISRNET: What’s the issue surrounding interoperability? To what degree can these systems talk to each other (or not) at present?

GREAVES: The Ballistic Missile Defense System [BMDS] is an effective, layered defense against ballistic missiles of all ranges and requires communication between various BMDS elements such as THAAD and Patriot.

Both the THAAD and Patriot systems have been developed to facilitate standard message communication via tactical data links to share information as part of a robust, layered defense. Tests, such as FTX-35, are used to confirm the systems interoperate as designed when tracking live targets.

There is no issue with interoperability. The BMDS command-and-control, battle management and communications element connects Patriot and THAAD units via tactical line-of-sight radios, SATCOM and long-haul fiber communication links, providing integrated regional missile defense capability in multiple COCOMs. Tactical software is designed to facilitate standardized message communication between the BMDS elements. War fighters are trained to establish and maintain tactical data links.

C4ISRNET: Why is it important to have interoperability?

GREAVES: Interoperability between BMDS elements provides the capability to integrate and synchronize missile defense systems to provide an optimized, layered missile defense.

Tactical cross-element communication is critical for war fighter coordination to maximize collaborative defense of assets, conserve interceptors, and provide common situational awareness for combatant commanders.

C4ISRNET: What can you say about the tactical data links and the software upgrades? Can you name specific technologies in use?

GREAVES: The tactical data links are established and maintained by the war fighter at the BMDS deployed locations. The software upgrades that were tested as part of FTX-35 were THAAD weapon system changes and were not specific to interoperability. The software upgrades were required for integration of the new AN/TPY-2 X86 terminal mode radar with the THAAD weapon system.

C4ISRNET: When, where, how and to what degree will these new software upgrades be implemented?

GREAVES: The THAAD weapon system and associated software upgrades are fielded to the Army via the Materiel Release process managed by the U.S. Army Materiel Command. This process includes rigorous testing in the lab and in the field to validate weapon system performance and concludes with a Materiel Release recommendation to the Army.

FTX-35 supported the Materiel Release testing for THAAD software build 3.0, which is planned to be available for fielding to the Army in Q4 FY18. The success of FTX-35 confirmed that THAAD software build 3.0 had no deleterious impact on the inherent interoperability of the BMDS.