Defense Bill Would Accelerate EKV Redesign Work

by

WASHINGTON — The U.S. House version of the defense authorization bill for 2015 would accelerate design work on a new missile-busting kill vehicle and suspend procurement of an existing version pending additional testing.

The bill, approved May 8 by the House Armed Services Committee, authorizes the Missile Defense Agency to spend $40 million more than the $100 million it requested for next year on a redesign of the Exoatmospheric Kill Vehicle (EKV), which has been implicated in a string of test failures of the primary U.S. territorial missile shield. The EKV is designed to separate from its booster rocket above the atmosphere and home in on warheads and destroy them by direct impact.

U.S. Navy Vice Adm. James Syring, the MDA’s director, has cited the redesigned EKV, along with a new long-range discrimination radar and improved target discrimination capabilities, as the pillars to a dramatically improved Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system.

Concerns about the GMD system’s reliability stem from three consecutive intercept-test failures, at least two of which have been attributed to issues with the EKV.

In January, the Pentagon’s top weapons tester recommended that the MDA consider redesigning the system, built by Raytheon Missile Systems of Tucson, Arizona.

Meanwhile, an amendment to the bill sponsored by Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.), which was approved by the committee, would prohibit MDA from buying any more of an existing EKV variant pending successful completion of an intercept test this summer. The so-called Capability Enhancement-2 is the latest EKV variant undergoing testing.

“It is the sense of Congress that the Secretary of Defense should not procure an additional capability enhancement II exoatmospheric kill vehicle for deployment until after the date on which a successful intercept flight test of the capability enhancement II ground-based interceptor has occurred, unless such procurement is for test assets or to maintain a warm line for the industrial base,” Johnson’s amendment reads.

The upcoming test will help determine whether the technology on the Capability Enhancement-2 kill vehicle has advanced enough for the MDA to buy 14 more GMD interceptors for installation at Fort Greely, Alaska, by 2017. The planned purchase is a key part of U.S. President Barack Obama’s plan to bolster the nation’s defenses against an attack from North Korea.

The current GMD system includes 26 interceptors at Fort Greely and four at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. The MDA also is investigating an additional GMD site in the eastern United States.

The defense authorization bill also makes reference to an aging tactical reconnaissance satellite in asking the Pentagon for a report on how military commanders intend to meet future satellite surveillance needs. The report is due to congressional defense and intelligence committees by Jan. 15, 2015.

“The committee is aware that [Operationally Responsive Space] ORS-1 is currently operating well beyond its design life, and there is no follow-on program planned,” says the bill language, drafted by the House Armed Services subcommittee on intelligence, emerging capabilities and threats.

Launched in June 2011, ORS-1 was placed into a 400-kilometer circular orbit at a 40 degree inclination, where it circles the globe every 90 minutes and provides visible and infrared imagery to U.S. forces operating in the Middle East and Southwest Asia. The satellite was built by Goodrich ISR Systems of Danbury, Connecticut, and ATK Space Systems of Beltsville, Maryland.

The ORS Office in 2008 was tapped to develop ORS-1 in response to an urgent need from U.S. Central Command. The satellite was developed in about 30 months. Since then, leaders from the Army’s 513th Military Intelligence Brigade have told Congress that what the satellite provides is unmatched.