WASHINGTON — Having successfully fended off a Lockheed Martin challenge to its longstanding role as prime contractor on the Pentagon’s primary U.S. territorial missile shield, Boeing Co. will focus in the coming years on quality assurance and upgrading the system’s interceptors.

St. Louis-based Boeing Defense, Space and Security teamed with Northrop Grumman Information Systems of McLean, Va., to win the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) development and sustainment contract, valued at $3.48 billion over seven years, the Pentagon announced Dec. 30. Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Sunnyvale, Calif., had teamed with Raytheon Missile Systems of Tucson, Ariz., builder of a critical GMD interceptor component, in its unsuccessful bid for the work.

Boeing led the industry team that developed the sprawling GMD complex, designed to defend U.S. territory against long-range missiles, under a prime contract originally awarded in 1998. The company will retain its leadership role despite problems including cost growth and a spotty record in testing: Six of the 10 most recent GMD intercept tests were failures, including the last two.

Riki Ellison, founder and chairman of the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance here, attributed Boeing’s win to a strong program management team and the added risk that switching prime contractors would have brought to the program, particularly with two critical tests scheduled to take place this year. The first of those, tentatively scheduled for this spring, will validate changes to the Raytheon-built Exoatmospheric Kill Vehicle (EKV), the hit-to-kill warhead that has been cited as a cause of the two most recent GMD test failures. The second test, scheduled for the fall, will attempt to intercept a target missile.

Lockheed Martin assembled a bid leveraging its considerable experience on other missile defense programs, and in doing so helped bring Boeing’s price down, Ellison said in a telephone interview. In going with Boeing, the U.S. Missile Defense Agency demonstrated its confidence that the incumbent can fix the system’s problems, he said.

“If [the MDA] did not have high confidence that they could fix the EKV, the award could have gone in the other direction,” Ellison said.

In an emailed response to questions, MDA spokesman Richard Lehner declined to say what tipped the scales in favor of Boeing, citing legal reasons. Similarly, he declined to discuss the relative strengths of the competing bids.

Lehner said the GMD Development and Sustainment Contract will focus on “Interceptor improvements and upgrades, quality assurance, flight testing, system integration.” Although there are no plans to increase the number of GMD interceptors — 26 are deployed in silos at Fort Greeley, Alaska, and another four are at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. — plans call for upgrading older versions in the next few years, he said.

Boeing, which like the MDA declined to grant interviews following the contract award, attributed its win to the expertise gained in developing the system. “The Boeing and Northrop Grumman GMD team is the only industry team capable of affordable innovation for GMD’s future,” Boeing spokeswoman Jessica Carlton said in a written response to questions.

Northrop Grumman, which developed and deployed the GMD’s command-and-control segment, will continue to oversee the system’s ground elements, Carlton said. Northrop Grumman also will support GMD sustainment, systems engineering and testing, she said.

In a prepared statement released Nov. 30, Northrop Grumman Chief Executive Wes Bush said: “By combining Northrop Grumman’s 50-year experience and success on the nation’s Minuteman ICBM program with Boeing’s heritage GMD leadership, we provide the optimum mix of integrated development and sustainment capabilities for a system that demands nothing less.”

In a written statement provided by Lockheed Martin spokeswoman Lynn Fisher, the company said it was “honored to have had the opportunity to submit a bid to the Missile Defense Agency for this important contract and to have worked with an outstanding industry team to formulate a proposal that leveraged our strengths in missile defense, strategic weapon systems and performance-based logistics.”

Boeing currently has about 900 employees on the GMD program including 525 in Huntsville, Ala., 200 in California, 80 in Alaska and 80 in Colorado Springs, Colo., Carlton said. Besides Northrop Grumman, Boeing’s major industrial partners on the program include Raytheon Missile Systems; Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles, Va., which builds the interceptor booster; Harris Corp. of Melbourne, Fla.; and Trident Group and Dynetics Inc., both of Huntsville.

Winning the GMD sustainment contract assures Boeing and Northrop Grumman of key roles in the U.S. missile defense architecture over the next several years. Lockheed Martin is prime contractor on the sea-based Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense and Terminal High Altitude Area Defense systems; Raytheon, in addition to being the EKV supplier, builds the Standard Missile 3 interceptors for the Aegis program.



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Warren Ferster is the Editor-in-Chief of SpaceNews and is responsible for all the news and editorial coverage in the weekly newspaper, the spacenews.com Web site and variety of specialty publications such as show dailies. He manages a staff of seven reporters...