WASHINGTON — Lockheed Martin, which builds the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense weapon system for the U.S. Army, has awarded BAE Systems a contract to design and manufacture a next-generation seeker for the system’s interceptors, according to a BAE announcement posted March 17.

“The sensor design work will improve the missile defense system’s ability to neutralize more threats and improve its manufacturability,” the statement read. The company did not disclose the contract amount or timelines to develop a design.

The THAAD weapon system is part of the Army’s layered approach to missile defense, now with its ability to defeat ballistic missile threats in the terminal phase of flight, but the Missile Defense Agency also wants to make it part of its future homeland defense architecture.

BAE already provides the seeker for the THAAD system, which uses infrared imagery to guide the interceptors to threat targets, and the company has delivered more than 500 THAAD seekers to date, according to the statement.

While the seekers are built in Nashua, New Hampshire, and Endicott, New York, the company plans to conduct design work for the next-generation seeker in Huntsville, Alabama, home of Redstone Arsenal and the Army’s missiles and space programs.

BAE Systems is building a state-of-the-art facility that will house a “cutting-edge” design program in Huntsville, the company noted.

While the Army plans to continue using THAAD far into the future, the MDA is, in fiscal 2021, planning to allocated $273.6 million for THAAD development efforts, including the THAAD homeland defense tier.

Specifically, the agency is asking for $139 million in FY21 to start the development and demonstration of a new interceptor prototype for THAAD, which could support a tiered and layered approach to homeland defense.

BAE Systems did not say whether the next-generation interceptor design work includes efforts related to MDA’s desire to produce a new interceptor prototype.

The agency is “challenging ourselves” to figure out how to develop a THAAD interceptor that would work against an intercontinental ballistic missile, Vice Adm. Jon Hill, the MDA’s director, said when the FY21 defense budget request was released in February. To do that, the MDA is seeking to draw lessons from building THAAD batteries for Saudi Arabia, he said.

The agency is also looking at the existing engineering trade space.

“We may consider an upgraded propulsion stack to give [THAAD] extended range, don’t know yet,” he said. “It could be that we don’t want to update the propulsion. Maybe there is something in the seeker that would buy us more in the trade space now.”

The THAAD interceptor program is a new start in the FY21 budget request, Hill noted. “We are working our way through what that program would look like.”

Jen Judson is an award-winning journalist covering land warfare for Defense News. She has also worked for Politico and Inside Defense. She holds a Master of Science degree in journalism from Boston University and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Kenyon College.

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