WASHINGTON — Raytheon Missile Systems of Tucson, Ariz., will begin ordering long-lead components for 29 Standard Missile (SM)-3 Block 1B interceptors under a $126 million contract modification awarded by the U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA), the Pentagon announced June 21.

The award follows a successful SM-3 Block 1B intercept test May 15 that the MDA said would inform a production decision on the sea-based interceptor, a more advanced version of the Raytheon-built SM-3 Block 1A currently operational aboard U.S. Navy ships. The modification brings the total value of the contract to $179.4 million, the Pentagon said.

Full-scale production of the SM-3 Block 1B, featuring a two-color seeker and a throttleable divert and attitude control system — these components track and propel the interceptor’s kinetic kill vehicle to its target, respectively — had been delayed by problems in developmental testing. The MDA was criticized for moving the system into production prematurely following a September 2011 test failure.

The May 15 test, in which the SM-3 Block 1B destroyed a separating short-range ballistic missile over the Pacific Ocean, was the third consecutive successful intercept test of the system. The U.S. Government Accountability Office had recommended deferring full-scale production pending three straight successful intercept tests. 

The target date for completing work under the contract modification is Sept. 30, 2016, the Pentagon said.

Warren Ferster is the Editor-in-Chief of SpaceNews and is responsible for all the news and editorial coverage in the weekly newspaper, the spacenews.com Web site and variety of specialty publications such as show dailies. He manages a staff of seven reporters...