EL PASO, Texas — A Fort Bliss air-defense unit last week took part in what's being called a historic test in the Pacific that sent a strong signal about the nation's defense capability.
The Fort Bliss unit used the THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) system to successfully shoot down a medium-range ballistic missile target for the first time, said Col. Daniel R. Hirsch, THAAD integration and testing officer and assistant chief of staff with the 32nd Army Air and Missile Defense Command, which is headquartered at Fort Bliss.
"Those bad guys out there now understand that this stuff works and is proven capable," Hirsch said.
The Fort Bliss unit was part of the "largest ballistic missile defense test ever conducted to date by the United States," Hirsch added.
Soldiers from A Battery, 4th Air Defense Artillery Regiment (THAAD), 11th Air Defense Artillery Brigade, participated in the joint operations in the Marshall Islands.
For those Fort Bliss soldiers who are part of the 32nd Army Air and Missile Defense Command, it was a tremendous opportunity, Hirsch said.
"THAAD has now proven an additional capability," Hirsch said. "In our history to date for THAAD, we have successfully engaged short-range and medium-range ballistic missile targets."
THAAD is an air-defense system designed to eliminate missile threats traveling inside and outside the atmosphere, Hirsch said.
It covers a "wider area than the Patriot and provides commanders with greater operational flexibility in protecting national priorities," Hirsch said.
Also taking part in the exercise were soldiers from the 69th Air Defense Artillery Brigade at Fort Hood and also part of the 32nd AAMDC; the 35th Air Defense Artillery Brigade stationed in South Korea; airmen from the 613th Air and Space Operations Center at Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii; sailors aboard the USS Fitzgerald; and the Missile Defense Agency.
During the exercise, four of five targets were shot down, Hirsch said. These were a combination of short- and medium-range ballistic missiles, cruise missiles and other targets.
The Army has three THAAD batteries, and all are currently located at Fort Bliss. A new one was just activated last week. D Battery, 2nd Air Defense Artillery Regiment (THAAD), 11th Air Defense Artillery Brigade, will have 95 to 100 members.
This new unit is in the process of "standing up" — receiving all its personnel and preparing for new equipment training, said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Jonathan Lee, the 11th Air Defense Artillery Brigade THAAD action officer.
This will be about a 12- to 15-month process of getting ready and trained, Lee said.
"It increases Fort Bliss' air-defense capability but also increases the Army's air-defense capability and subsequently, the nation's," Lee said.
Fort Bliss and its surrounding training ranges are the "optimal place to stand up the THAAD units and train them," Lee said.
During the most recent Base Realignment and Closure process, Fort Bliss was transformed from an installation with a long air-defense history to being the new home of the 1st Armored Division.
However, the 32nd Army Air and Missile Defense Command still has about 3,000 soldiers at Fort Bliss, including its headquarters and the 11th Air Defense Artillery Brigade.