Production of the latest version of the Exoatmospheric Kill Vehicle (EKV), part of the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) anti-ballistic-missile system, remains suspended while the U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA) looks into a 2010 flight test failure, said the agency’s director, Army Lt. Gen. Patrick O’Reilly.
In May 25 testimony before the Senate Appropriations Committee’s defense panel, O’Reilly also said a plan to shift program oversight of the Army’s Patriot air and missile defense system to MDA could be in place as soon as 2013.
The GMD interceptor missile, which failed in the final moments of a December test, was an upgraded version of the currently deployed GMD system. This version includes a new EKV, the Raytheon-built component that intercepts an incoming missile in space.
The suspension, imposed soon after the December failure, will last until required design modifications are completed and verified, and MDA has diverted 2011 GMD funding to expedite the modifications.
The GMD program had two test failures in 2010. The first involved EKV quality control. “We have identified and confirmed that we had an error in the assembly process of the new EKV,” O’Reilly said during the May 25 hearing.
He said the problem was fixed by revising the factory’s inspection processes.
O’Reilly said the agency has seen no problems in older-model EKVs now deployed on older GMD systems, nor are there problems with the GMD booster.
As for the December test, O’Reilly did not say what the problem was. “We have completed almost all of the ground testing to confirm what the problem was and have identified that problem,” he said. “We’re now in the process of correcting the problem, confirming it on the ground, but the nature of these types of problems make it very difficult to confirm in ground testing.” Investigators have found “one flaw, which … we are aggressively working to resolve it and prove it,” O’Reilly said.
MDA will conduct “extensive ground testing” this summer and a non-intercept test with an upgraded EKV, and it will repeat the failed intercept test in 2012.
A Raytheon spokesman referred comments to Boeing, the GMD program’s prime contractor.
In an email, Boeing spokesman Scott Day said the most likely cause for the failure has been identified and the GMD team is “now focused on ground testing to collect data to confirm. In parallel, design modifications to the EKV are being pursued and tested.
“The number one priority on the program is to resolve the flight test failures.”
In March, Boeing’s top program official said he believed the problem was solely with the EKV.
Norm Tew, a Boeing vice president and the company’s GMD program director, said during a March briefing that the December test was “the cleanest, most picture-perfect flight” conducted “up until the last few seconds.” GMD is designed to protect the United States from long-range ballistic missiles, particularly from North Korea and Iran.
The plan to transfer the Patriot program, first discussed in April 2010, would relieve the Army of certain budgetary responsibilities while providing more stable funding to the program, service officials said at the time.
“The particular proposal we have made for the Army’s case is literally to take their leadership that does currently oversee Patriot,” O’Reilly said. “They would become part of the Missile Defense Agency, but still … have rating responsibilities to the Army.” The transfer is still being deliberated, and a final decision has not been made, he said.
The Army and MDA also had considered transferring the Medium Extended Air Defense System (MEADS) during the last year. But since then, the Defense Department has announced that the MEADS program would come to an end in 2013 because the United States will not move forward with production. MEADS also involves Germany and Italy. The program’s prime contractor is MEADS International, a consortium of Lockheed Martin and MBDA, the European missile house. MEADS was to replace the Patriot system. Pentagon officials have said that due to MEADS delays, the Patriot system needed upgrades. But the Pentagon could not afford to upgrade Patriot and buy MEADS at the same