Industry teams are gearing up for a competition to help NATO integrate the various missile defense systems that its member nations might bring to a future fight.

This work could be worth about $130 million over the course of two years, said Mitch Kugler, director of strategic initiatives at Boeing Missile Defense Systems in Arlington, Va.

Boeing and Northrop Grumman Corp. have each announced plans to compete for the NATO contract.

Kugler said during a Sept. 6 conference call with reporters that he expected the research firm SAIC Corp. of San Diego, Calif., to compete as well. Connie Custer, a spokeswoman for SAIC, declined to comment on whether the company will compete for the NATO contract.

Boeing’s team includes Lockheed Martin Corp. and Teledyne Brown Engineering Inc. of the United States, Finmeccanica of Italy, Havelsan of Turkey, MBDA of France and Prezemyslowly Instytut Telekomunikacji of Poland.

Northrop Grumman’s team, which the company announced in an Aug. 31 news release, includes EADS Defence & Security Systems Division, of Munich, Germany, and Indra of Madrid, Spain.

“The proliferation of missiles of all ranges presents a significant threat to NATO nations and alliance forces,” said Gary Abercrombie, vice president of missile defense programs at Northrop Grumman Mission Systems of Reston, Va.

The contract winner will develop testing facilities in the United States and Europe where countries could plug in missile defense sensor inputs and interceptor hardware to ensure that they can operate in concert, Kugler said.

Even countries that buy the same type of equipment, like Patriot Advanced Capability-3 interceptor systems, could run into trouble communicating with each other’s systems, he said.

“If a number of NATO countries go on a NATO operation, and several bring their missile defense systems, NATO wants to make sure that those sensors and shooters can work together, and not operate as stand-alone systems,” Kugler said.

The work is focused on systems that defend against short- and medium-range ballistic missiles fired at troops on the battlefield, rather than ICBMs , he said.

The winning contractor will use the test-bed to help integrate and test proposed theater missile defense architectures; develop and evaluate operational concepts; and evaluate emerging capabilities, said Regino Moranchel, Indra’s managing director, in the Northrop Grumman news release.

NATO established a project office in Brussels for this effort in March in response to the emergence of the Scud missile threat, according to a NATO fact sheet. The increased proliferation of weapons of mass destruction in recent years has made the missile threat even more ominous, according to the fact sheet.

NATO hopes to take advantage of a variety of different interceptor systems to protect its forces from these missiles, including the Patriot Advanced Capability-3, which the U.S. military uses today; the Sol-Air Moyenne Portee-Terre system expected to be deployed by the Italian and French militaries later this decade; and the Medium Extended Air Defense System that is expected to be deployed by Italy, Germany and the United States early in the next decade, according to the NATO fact sheet.

The project office will likely issue a formal request for proposals in late 2005 or early next year, Kugler said. The teams will likely have about 60 days to respond, and then the office will take a similar period to evaluate the proposals, he said.

Boeing’s experience with missile defense architectures includes working as the prime contractor for the Pentagon’s Ground Based Midcourse Defense System deployed at Ft. Greely, Alaska, and Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., to protect the United States against ICBMs fired from Iran and North Korea.

While Boeing is waiting for a formal statement of work from NATO before it defines the roles of its subcontractors in the competition, Kugler noted that Lockheed Martin currently leads the command and control integration for the U.S. national missile defense program.

Northrop Grumman’s relevant experience includes serving as the prime contractor for the Joint National Integration Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., the Pentagon’s main missile defense wargaming facility, according to the company news release. Northrop Grumman also serves as the prime contractor for the Kinetic Energy Interceptor, a new high-speed interceptor under development to knock down ICBMs shortly after takeoff.

Victoria Samson, a research analyst at the Center for Defense Information, a think tank here, said that interoperability between missile defense systems will likely be a difficult challenge for NATO forces. The U.S. military found that connecting Patriot missile batteries operated by different battalions of its own Army in Iraq was not easy, she said.

Coalition operations have relied primarily upon U.S.-operated missile defense systems, but the purchase of these systems by NATO members in recent years indicate that interoperability issues must be confronted, Samson said.

Coalition operation of missile defense systems will likely require considerable training to address issues like the different terminology that is key to operating the systems, Samson said.

Having NATO, rather than the United States, handle the test bed program may help encourage cooperation in the preparation to use these systems as it would depoliticize the process, Samson said.