WASHINGTONThe U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA) intends to make a sole-source award to Boeing Co. to continue serving as lead contractor on the primary U.S. missile defense shield, according to a notice issued by the agency March 21.

Boeing has been prime contractor on the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system since its inception in 1998 and now is under contract through 2008. The system is still in testing, with two intercept tests, each more difficult than the preceding one, scheduled for this year, Scott Fancher, vice president of Arlington, Va.-based Boeing Missile Defense Systems, said at a March 25 media briefing.

The notice says the MDA plans to combine Boeing’s current contract with the follow-on contract, essentially extending the company’s work through the first three quarters of 2013.

The work “cannot be performed by any source other than Boeing without substantial and unacceptable programmatic risk, duplicative cost, and schedule delays,” the notice states. “There would be additional schedule and cost delays for the government to conduct extensive re-testing/re-validation to ensure the necessary GMD system capabilities, expertise and knowledge have been successfully transferred to any new system prime contractor. It is highly improbable that other sources are available to duplicate the work already accomplished by the incumbent, to meet the government’s critical schedule requirements and not disrupt current system operational capability.”

Fancher said the MDA recognized Boeing’s performance on the GMD system in 2007 by awarding the company 100 percent of the available performance-based contract fee. This was the highest award fee ever paid by the MDA for a major development program, he said.

“We are very gratified that last week they announced their intentions to continue with the Boeing-led team for future planned development of the GMD system,” Fancher said. “We greatly appreciate the confidence our government customer has shown in this team’s ability to do this important work. The MDA has consistently said it wanted the lowest-risk, lowest- cost, highest-performance approach for the GMD follow-on efforts. We believe this announcement is consistent with those objectives.”

Fancher concurred with the MDA’s notice, saying a change in industry leadership on the program would significantly increase risk to the GMD system’s ability to defend the United States.

The MDA released a request for information regarding the GMD follow-on contract in November 2007, and at least three other companies, Northrop Grumman Mission Systems of Reston, Va., Raytheon Integrated Defense Systems of Tewksbury, Mass., and Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Sunnyvale, Calif., responded. All three companies have contributed to the GMD program as subcontractors.

The latest MDA notice says any companies that believe they can meet all the requirements of the prime contractor without substantial duplication of costs or schedule delays may submit a narrative description of capability by April 5. The MDA reserved the right to change its mind and conduct a competitive procurement depending on the responses it receives.

Raytheon will not pursue a prime contractor role for the GMD follow-on, Raytheon spokeswoman Maureen Heard said in an e-mail response to questions.

Northrop Grumman spokesman Jay McCaffrey said his company is still in favor of a competition approach and is considering its course of action. Lockheed Martin also is mulling its options, spokesman Scott Lusk said.