WASHINGTON — The U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA) the week of April 4 intends to award contracts to three companies to develop initial concepts for a long-range interceptor missile planned for deployment in Europe by 2020, the agency’s director told lawmakers March 31.

The MDA is taking a prudent approach and has allotted more time for development of the interceptor, the Standard Missile (SM)-3 Block 2B, than was needed for similar previous interceptors, Army Lt. Gen. Patrick O’Reilly, the MDA’s director, said during a hearing of the House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee.

The MDA started planning for the SM-3 Block 2B interceptor after the White House in September 2009 announced a change of course for defending European allies and deployed U.S. forces from ballistic missile attacks. The so-called Phased Adaptive Approach to European missile defense initially will rely on the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense system developed by Lockheed Martin Mission Systems and Sensors of Moorestown, N.J., and the ship-based SM-3 Block 1A and SM-3 Block 1B interceptors built by Raytheon Missile Systems of Tucson, Ariz.

The United States and Japan are co-developing the larger SM-3 Block 2A interceptor, which is planned for deployment by 2018 to defeat medium- and intermediate-range ballistic missiles.

The three industry teams chosen for the SM-3 Block 2B concept development phase will spend the next 32 months conducting trade analyses, defining benchmark performance and crafting viable development plans, the MDA has said. The SM-3 Block 2B would be deployed on land only, MDA spokesman Rick Lehner said April 1.

Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, Boeing Defense, Space & Security of St. Louis and Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems of Los Angeles all announced they had submitted proposals to the MDA for the program.

The MDA does not yet know how much it will spend on the SM-3 Block 2B concept development phase for the remaining six months of this fiscal year, Lehner said. The agency has requested $123.5 million for the program in 2012, and plans to spend some $1.7 billion through 2016, budget documents show.

Rep. Michael Turner (R-Ohio), the subcommittee’s chairman, expressed concern that the SM-3 Block 2B interceptor might not be able to defeat ICBMs and thus would not provide an additional layer of defense for U.S. territory.

O’Reilly said the SM-3 Block 2B would be able to defeat all but the longest-range ICBMs. The interceptor was initially conceived to defeat ballistic missiles with ranges up to 5,500 kilometers, a range generally classified as intermediate. But it became apparent that because the Block 2B would be used to intercept missiles in the early stages of flight, it could defeat missiles with ranges up to about 12,000 kilometers, he  said.

“In early parts of flight there is not a significant amount of [difference] between an intermediate-range ballistic missile or an ICBM,” O’Reilly said.

“It would not be effective against the very largest ICBMs, but it would be effective against ICBMs traveling at the velocities that we are concerned about and distances we are concerned about for countries in the Middle East and Northeast Asia.”

Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) asked whether the SM-3 Block 2B development could be described as high-risk. O’Reilly responded that because it is intended to hit missiles in the early stages of flight, this interceptor does not have to be as complex as other interceptors the Pentagon has developed such as the Patriot Advanced Capability-3 and Terminal High Altitude Area Defense systems, which are designed to engage very-fast-moving missile warheads in the terminal phases of flight. Nevertheless, the agency has built a substantial amount of margin into the SM-3 Block 2B development schedule, he said.

“We went back and looked at how long it takes to build missiles of this class. For this missile, from the beginning of product development to making a milestone decision for production is five-and-a-half years, which is longer than what the average is for a typical missile. We do believe we’ve put schedule margin into the development of this missile.”



Raytheon Gets Contract for SM-3 Block 2A Work