Profile: David Kier, Lockheed Martin Vice President and Managing Director for Protection

In recent years public discussion in the United States about missile defense had been focused on protecting the homeland from ICBMs, and protecting troops on the battlefield from shorter-range missiles.

David Kier’s focus is also on a new dimension that is getting a lot of attention these days: the threat posed by missiles launched from ships near U.S. shores.

Developing an integrated architecture of sensors and interceptors to stop short-range ballistic and cruise missiles could be worth $10 billion to $12 billion, and Lockheed Martin is in hot pursuit of that market, which will require a variety of systems the company already builds , Kier said. It also is an area that has drawn a lot of interest from companies in other countries who hope to partner with Lockheed Martin, he said.

Kier’s responsibilities include overseas missile defense and homeland security issues that include defending U.S. satellite constellations. While satellite protection is a relatively small part of his portfolio, Kier hopes that it will grow as government officials come to better understand the critical nature of satellites and the threats that face them.

Kier is intimately familiar with the value of those satellites, having served as deputy director of the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) prior to joining Lockheed Martin in October 2001. His space background also includes stints earlier in his career at NASA as a flight test engineer and high-speed vehicles program manager.

Kier talked about space and missile defense during a recent interview in Washington with Space News staff writer Jeremy Singer.

How much has Lockheed Martin invested in developing its concept for defending the United States against missiles launched from ships near its shores?

We put in about $6.5 million, and are still spending. We did some analysis of potential damage and loss of life from this type of scenario, and the numbers are staggeringly large — so much so that I was able to go to the corporation and propose this activity, and they were concerned enough that they went ahead and funded it for me.

One of the key aspects of this challenge is persistent surveillance along the shores. You can’t keep the aircraft of today up 24/7. We found that out after 9/11. It’s too expensive and too hard on the airplanes, so a long-dwelling platform like the High Altitude Airship that Lockheed Martin is developing for the Missile Defense Agency, which is envisioned as hovering over areas of interest for months at a time, would be very helpful.

What has happened with the High Altitude Airship since the Pentagon stopped work on the program in March?

I went in and presented some options and our risk assessment to Air Force Lt. Gen. Henry “Trey” Obering, the director of the Missile Defense Agency, and he gave me two months to come back to him and define its military utility and provide a program plan and a cost assessment for the prototype and the operational system.

We did that; he liked what he heard, and he has decided to proceed with the program. One of the issues was the risk associated with the program. The best way for us to assuage the Pentagon’s concern about that risk was to put up some of our own money against the problem. So the corporation is going to put up about $43 million of the $180 million it’s going to take to do this.

I told Gen. Obering that I think the biggest risk is with the command and control, since it’s a totally new type of unmanned aerial vehicle. I’m not worried about the fabric and the power. Those are amenable to technical solution and effort.

We need to do a better job in the simulation and preparation for the flight test. We can’t afford to have this thing get loose and have to shoot it down over the ocean. So that’s why I’m working with the folks at Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works who know how to do this, and want to get them more involved with the execution of the program.

When might we see a demonstration of the High Altitude Airship?

They had wanted one in 2006 when we first signed the contract. However, the funding available couldn’t meet the schedule, so now it looks like 2008, pending approval of the 2006 budget request. If the budget request is reduced, it could slip to 2009.

The Missile Defense Agency intends to terminate Lockheed Martin’s booster vehicle work for the Ground Based Midcourse Defense interceptors and rely on the rockets built by Orbital Sciences. Given that the Pentagon feels it needs two sources of rockets for launching satellites, should it have a similar policy for missile defense interceptors?

They should carry an insurance policy as long as they can afford to, and our BV Plus booster is the insurance policy.

If they could carry it for another year or two, until the Orbital Sciences vehicle was fully vetted and had a satisfactory operational record, I would think they’d like to do that, but I gather that it’s been budget pressure that forced them to make some hard choices, and this is one of them.

It’s unfortunate, because sometimes you need insurance when some unforeseen things happen, and it’s nice to have a backup readily available.

Given the trend at the Missile Defense Agency towards spiral development, would you be concerned that instead of a competition for a new booster, the agency decided to just incrementally improve Orbital’s rocket?

That’s certainly a viable design option for them, and a spiral approach is certainly something that they use, but spiral development could also be a benefit to the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) case. If they want to spiral THAAD up, that provides some interesting capabilities fairly quickly and cheaply.

You’ve seen how the NRO works from the inside. Was separating the position of undersecretary of the Air Force from director of the NRO a wise move on the part of the government?

Let me tell you what I told [former NRO Director and Air Force Undersecretary] Pete Teets when he first took that job, having seen it from both sides as a principle deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force and as deputy director of the NRO.

“Pete,” I said, “it takes one of three things to do this job. Either you open your shirt and there is an ‘S’ on your chest for Superman, or you have divine connections, or you are a little bit touched,” because I think it’s more job than one person could do well.

The duties of NRO director, undersecretary of the Air Force and executive agent for space programs are each so demanding that they could be three separate jobs. Depending on what the Air Force secretary’s preference is, the other undersecretary duties outside of space can be anything from very minimal to very large, and you just don’t have enough hours in the day to do everything you would want to do, or perhaps should do. It’s such a demanding job that I think splitting it is probably a prudent thing to do.

Any concern that it might be a step backward from the integration of black and white space that a lot of people thought worked out pretty well?

To a significant degree, yes it is. It’s a step backwards — no matter how well any two people want to work together, it’s not the same as one person having the job. So in that sense, it is a step backwards.

Will it fundamentally change the way things are done in the integration of black and white space? We’ll have to wait and see. I don’t know. A lot of it will depend on how well the integration of the director of national intelligence and the Pentagon’s undersecretary of intelligence works. If that integration is good, then the integration of black and white space will be facilitated. If they don’t get along well, it will inhibit the ability of those two to facilitate integration. The atmosphere will be more contentious, and that never bodes well for integration. That’s just human nature.