TEL AVIV, Israel — Competitive tension is mounting as aerospace firms finalize bids for the first two procurements of a planned four-phase U.S. target and countermeasures acquisition program estimated at nearly $5 billion over the next five years.

The Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency (MDA) is budgeting $4.9 billion through 2015 as part of a comprehensive revamping of its Ballistic Missile Defense Test and Targets program. The agency is asking Congress for $1.1 billion of that sum in the coming year for acquisition and support programs, beginning with targets designed to simulate medium- and intermediate-range ballistic missiles.

Proposals are due in July for targets simulating medium-range ballistic missiles, with ranges from 1,000 kilometers to 3,000 kilometers. By August, defense and industry sources say, proposals are due for candidate targets meeting performance parameters of intermediate-range missiles, with ranges from 3,000 kilometers to 5,000 kilometers.

According to an MDA 2011 budget estimate document dated Jan. 15, the agency aims to down-select to a single contractor in each target class, with initial awards planned for early 2011 to support flight testing by 2012.

In addition to the roughly $517 million being requested in 2011 to acquire new targets, MDA hopes to spend an even larger sum — about $559 million — to support system level flight tests.[spacenews-ad]

The planned acquisition effort follows more than a year of intensive study and the crafting of an integrated master plan aimed at providing an extensive, cost-effective inventory of highly reliable targets in support of MDA’s overall test plan, defense and industry sources say. According to MDA’s budget request, the agency plans to conduct 120 test events from 2011 through 2015.

The planned near-term buys aim to transition from older, costly and less-reliable legacy systems to a new generation of targets. For example, the most recent planned test of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system was foiled when a short-range target missile supplied by Coleman Research Corp. failed to ignite after being dropped from its C-17 carrier aircraft. As a result of the December 2009 glitch, MDA imposed a freeze on the use of that particular target and directed Coleman  to submit a corrective action plan before the end of the year.

MDA spokesman Richard Lehner said tests involving the air-launched target could resume by early to mid-2011, pending the agency’s review of the corrective action plan.

Defense and industry sources say the next THAAD test is slated to occur in the next few weeks, this time against a medium-range ground-launched target.

“In the past, we relied on older targets based on retired missile technology, which was quite expensive to maintain and configure for missile defense,” Lehner said. “It’s always been a challenge to have enough of an inventory of representative targets to meet our needs, and this long-term acquisition program will allow us to plan and test much more efficiently for the next 10 years or so.”

In a June 11 interview, Lehner said requests for industry proposals on short-range and intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM)-class targets have not yet been released. At the moment, MDA is not suffering from a dearth of short-range targets of various types, he said, adding that the ICBM-class testing program, while important, will require more time to ensure that the targets meet the long-term requirements of the integrated master plan.

“For the immediate term, we need to focus on targets in support of our highest-priority programs. But ultimately, the aim is to refresh inventories for all four classes of ballistic missile threats,” Lehner said.

Nearly a dozen firms plan to compete for one or more elements of the MDA target acquisition, modeling and test support program, among them: Boeing Co. of Chicago, Lockheed Martin Corp. of Bethesda, Md., Northrop Grumman Corp. of Los Angeles, Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles, Va., and Raytheon Co. of Waltham, Mass.

“The market for targets and testing support of MDA assets is considerable, and Northrop Grumman certainly plans to be a part of it,” said Karen Williams, vice president for air and missile defense systems at the McLean, Va.-based Northrop Grumman Information Services. In a recent press briefing, Williams said Northrop Grumman aims to compete for the intermediate-range target program, and to leverage its ongoing modeling and simulation activity for the U.S. Army in support of other MDA needs.

“Lockheed Martin is committed to supporting the needs of MDA’s targets and countermeasures program,” said Lynn Fisher, spokeswoman for Lockheed Martin Space Systems Co. of Sunnyvale, Calif. She noted that Lockheed Martin provides about a quarter of MDA’s targets of various ranges, launched from the ground, sea and air, and that since 1996, the company has had a reliability rate of 99 percent.

Karleen Seybold, program manager for Sparrow Targets at Tucson, Ariz.,-based Raytheon Missile Systems, said that firm not only is a candidate to supply the intermediate-range targets but also is prepared to propose an air-launched missile developed by Rafael of Israel for the short-range target procurement once that request for proposals is released.

“Raytheon’s approach is to look at current MDA investments and to leverage technologies for very high reliability,” Seybold said in a June 10 interview. “We aim to leverage proven, cost-effective, operationally representative technologies in both of those categories.”