The Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) production floor in Troy, Alabama has changed a lot over the last two decades, and Inspector Specialist Linda Gregory has been there to see it all.
“I’ve learned a lot over the years, and I wouldn’t take anything for it,” she said.
Linda was the second THAAD manufacturing technician hired onto the program. She began as a contractor in 1999 and became a fulltime employee in 2000. She is one of only three employees who have been on the program since it entered the Engineering and Manufacturing Development (EMD) phase.
Now, 23 years later, Linda gets to witness yet another major THAAD milestone-- the recent delivery of THAAD’s 700th interceptor to the Missile Defense Agency.
“Before we delivered the first missile we had a lot of going back and repairing to make sure we got it right,” she said. “To imagine where we’ve come from that is just amazing to me.”
Her commitment to the program is unmatched. Despite Linda’s daily commute of 28 miles to Lockheed Martin’s Troy, Alabama facility, her supervisors admit that she is usually the first to arrive, clocking in as early as 5 a.m. most mornings.
“Everybody loves being around her,” one said. “She’s like the Energizer Bunny.”
Having started with THAAD so early in its lifecycle, Linda was given remarkable opportunities. She was trained to build every sub-assembly, starting with those in the front of the building and working all the way to the back.
Linda recalls assembling the first missile – a project that began in the fall of 1999 and was not complete until December 2000. Today the program is manufacturing as many as eight missiles per month.
“When we started production, we had two manufacturing people to build the missile, and we built it all the way down the line,” Linda recalls. “Now we have teams working different operations on the missile.”
The success of the program is a testament to the people who support it. Linda is one of the many thousands of people who have committed their time and talents to shaping THAAD into the critical capability it is today.
The THAAD Program currently supports more than 18,000 direct and indirect jobs across the United States. More than 1,000 employees across Lockheed Martin support the THAAD program at locations in California, Alabama, Massachusetts, Florida, Arkansas and Texas. The program’s design is incredibly complex, drawing on a nationwide supply chain and industrial base delivering key components and support that provides an additional 17,000 jobs across the country. Lockheed Martin continues to expand operations to meet domestic demand and the needs of international allies, while relying on a growing team of talented engineers and innovators.
“No one person made this program successful,” Linda said. “Everybody works together to build the product and make sure it works the way it’s supposed to.”
Above and Beyond
The THAAD weapon system is designed to intercept targets both inside and outside the atmosphere. With a 100% intercept success rate in flight tests, THAAD is a highly effective, combat-proven defense capability against short, medium and intermediate-range ballistic missile threats.
In today’s increasingly contested battlespace, seamless integration across systems is more imperative than ever to ensure effective threat deterrence and the protection of deployed personnel in any environment. THAAD interceptors use Lockheed Martin’s proven Hit-to-Kill technology, destroying targets with direct impact and protecting critical assets on the ground. The system is not only rapidly deployable and mobile but also readily interoperable with other ballistic missile defense systems, including PAC-3 and Aegis. These unique capabilities combined make THAAD a valued element to a carefully orchestrated network of layered defense.
“Everybody on the team respects what they’re doing,” Linda said. “To think that this thing that we build can go from surface to space and do what it’s supposed to do is incredible.”
THAAD has enhanced 21st century security, giving the warfighter a tactical edge and improved protection in a variety of environments. Despite its demonstrated success, THAAD continues incremental capability improvements within the weapon system to extend performance and improve effectiveness against current and emerging threats.
“It’s been a steady learning experience up to where we’re at today, and we’re still learning,” Linda said.
As an avid adopter of new technology, THAAD has achieved dramatic process improvements, including trimming hundreds of production hours from the first interceptor to the 700th. With only two technicians on the team during THAAD’s early manufacturing days, Linda recalls following the product all the way down the production line. Today, the process is highly specialized. The intelligent integration of digital capabilities has allowed the team to more efficiently and effectively bound ahead of emerging threats.
“It has been incredible to see someone come up with a better idea to accomplish what we used to do,” she said. “We’re doing everything a lot faster.”
Given the program’s strong history of success, it’s no surprise that demand continues to climb. THAAD has ramped up production to meet the needs of domestic and international customers. THAAD is a key contributor to sustaining strategic partnerships and delivering the most robust solutions to protect civilians, deployed forces and critical assets across the globe.
Seeing all 700 interceptor deliveries is a tremendous accomplishment. Reflecting on her career, Linda admits, “There was never a doubt that we would get to 700 deliveries, but I didn’t anticipate that I’d still be here.”
THAAD’s proven performance and more recent milestone are the results of a resilient team whose expertise and personal credibility make THAAD a valued contributor to the cutting edge of missile defense.
When asked if she expects the program to meet 1,000 interceptor deliveries, Linda eagerly asserted, “Of course we will!”