WASHINGTON — Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Raytheon have responded to a request for information from the U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA) on prospective bidders for a common kill vehicle that would work almost interchangeably with two of its major programs, the Ground Based Interceptor and Standard Missile (SM)-3 family.

The common kill vehicle represents one of the few big development project plums in an otherwise thin portfolio of future projects. The MDA hopes to have a common kill vehicle working by 2020.

Speaking on a conference call at the Space & Missile Defense Symposium in Huntsville, Ala., executives with Lockheed Martin said the company responded to a sources sought notice on the project June 25. 

In an email Aug. 12, Heather Uberuaga, a spokeswoman for Raytheon Missile Systems of Tucson, Ariz., confirmed the company also responded to the request and is awaiting further direction from the government. Raytheon builds the kill vehicles on both the Ground Based Interceptor and SM-3.

A spokesman for Boeing, Dexter Henson, also confirmed the company responded.

“We believe we have an innovative solution to meet the customers needs,” Henson wrote in an Aug. 13 email.

The common kill vehicle program would go into full-scale development around 2015-2016, Mat Joyce, Lockheed Martin’s vice president for Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, said. 

Both the House and Senate appropriations committees have budgeted $70 million for common kill vehicle technology in 2014. The MDA hopes to spend $350 million for the project during the next five years, according to budget documents.

The project comes amid questions about the reliability of the current U.S. territorial shield, which relies on the Ground Based Interceptor. That system has failed in its last three intercept attempts, including one in July.

“We must immediately start on a next-generation homeland defense interceptor,” Rep. Mike D. Rogers (R-Ala.), chairman of the House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee, said at the symposium Aug. 13. “For two years now, Congress has been pushing for the administration to begin work on a next-generation modernization program to follow the interceptor technology we’ve been relying on.”

U.S. Defense Department officials believe a common kill vehicle would reduce risk and costs across the Ground Based Interceptor and SM-3 programs, as well as potentially increase their accuracy and reliability. The kill vehicles that top both interceptors are designed to home in on missile warheads and destroy them by force of impact.

The Ground Based Interceptor, designed to hit long-range missiles, is the primary interceptor for the Ground Based Midcourse Defense U.S. territorial shield. The SM-3, designed to engage short- and medium-range missiles, is operational aboard several U.S. Navy ships, with variants under development that could be deployed on land or at sea.

Joyce said Lockheed Martin officials have discussed enhancing the kill vehicle’s ability to discriminate between missile warheads from decoys, a long-standing conundrum in the missile defense enterprise.

Another approach to the discrimination problem is fielding a system capable of engaging multiple targets simultaneously. Lockheed Martin was prime contractor on the Multiple Kill Vehicle that was designed to do just that, but the program was canceled by the Obama administration.

In budget documents, MDA said they want the capability “to destroy several lethal objects from a single missile” as well as recognize decoy warheads from the real thing.

In addition to its current kill vehicle work, Raytheon Missile Systems is prime contractor on the SM-3 family. Boeing Defense Space & Security of St. Louis is the prime contractor for the Ground Based Interceptor, while Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Sunnyvale, Calif., is prime on the Theater High Altitude Area Defense interceptor.

The common kill vehicle is expected to fill at least part of the MDA technology-development void left by the cancellation this year of the SM-3 Block 2B interceptor program. That program was the subject of a three-way competition between Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Raytheon.

“There may be a significant benefit to modular and scalable technology that improves capability and maximizes the commonality among future interceptor kill vehicles,” the MDA’s request for information says. “Some of these benefits may include reduced development, production, and maintenance costs. Interested parties should submit a white paper that demonstrates expertise in developing kill vehicles and kill vehicle technology.”

Common kill vehicle technology has been talked about for more than a decade, but the most recent incarnation of the program was in response to direction in the National Defense Authorization Act of 2013. Then, Congress called for a long-term plan, including modification and enhancements, for the Raytheon-built Exo-Atmospheric Kill Vehicle that currently tops the Ground Based Interceptor.

The common kill vehicle program includes funds to develop and test various technologies, including propulsion systems and seekers, budget documents say.


Senate Bill Shows Sharp Division on Future of U.S. Missile Defense

Syring Points to Booster Separation Problem in Missed Missile Intercept

Mike Gruss is a senior staff writer for SpaceNews. He joined the publication in January 2013 to cover military space. Previously, he worked as a reporter and columnist for The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Va. and The Journal Gazette in Fort Wayne, Ind. He...