WASHINGTON — Following the second consecutive flight test failure of the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system in December, the director of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA) suspended deliveries of a new kill vehicle that flew on both test flights, a government watchdog agency said March 24.
Overall, the MDA made good progress in delivering missile defense assets in 2010 and improved its transparency and accountability, but the agency’s cost and schedule baselines are often incomplete and sometimes contain conflicting information, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office report, “Missile Defense: Actions Needed to Improve Transparency and Accountability.”
The failed January 2010 intercept test of the GMD system was the first to use the CE-2 variant of the Exoatmospheric Kill Vehicle developed by Raytheon Missile Systems of Tucson, Ariz. The interceptor failed to hit the target missile, and a failure investigation board faulted both the kill vehicle and the Sea-Based X-band radar.
The next GMD intercept test failure, in December, also used the CE-2 kill vehicle, and the failure investigation is still under way, MDA spokesman Rick Lehner said March 31. Army Lt. Gen. Patrick O’Reilly, the MDA’s director, halted deliveries of the new kill vehicle variant after the December failure, the report said.
Raytheon produces the kill vehicles under a contract with Boeing Defense, Space & Security of St. Louis, the GMD prime contractor. Boeing spokeswoman Jessica Carlton would not say how many of the kill vehicles Raytheon is under contract to deliver or has delivered so far. She declined to provide the value of Raytheon’s kill vehicle contract or say whether Raytheon would be subject to any financial penalty for the test failures.
Raytheon spokesman John Patterson referred questions about the suspension to Boeing and MDA.
The MDA is allowing Raytheon to continue working on parts of the kill vehicle that would not have been factors in the GMD test failure “in order to keep the production line moving and to allow a rapid recovery of deliveries once the failure investigation team determines [the] likely cause or causes and develops either design changes or mitigations,” the Government Accountability Office said. The report noted that the GMD developmental flight plan extends to 2021 and most of the CE-2 kill vehicles will be manufactured and delivered prior to its completion.
Because of the two GMD test failures in 2010, the MDA must now reassess the number of Ground Based Interceptors it buys for the system, O’Reilly told lawmakers March 31. In its 2012 budget submission, the MDA said it would restart the Ground Based Interceptor production lines and buy the final five missiles the system would need through 2020, bringing the total number of interceptors purchased to 52. Of these, 30 are operationally deployed and 16 have been fired in tests, leaving only six interceptors for backups and testing, O’Reilly said during a hearing of the House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee.
The tests last year took two interceptors out of MDA’s inventory, and another will have to be used in a non-intercept flight test later this year after the exact cause of the December failure is determined, O’Reilly said. Then in 2012 the agency will attempt the intercept test for the third time, using yet another interceptor, he said. The agency, in preparing its 2013 budget submission, will reconsider whether it needs to order more interceptors to recapitalize its stockpile, O’Reilly said.
The Government Accountability Office, meanwhile, praised the MDA for the progress made last year in delivering assets for its operational missile defense systems. The agency met or exceeded its goals for upgrading Navy Aegis ships with missile defense capabilities and delivering Standard Missile-3 interceptor and Ground Based Interceptors and a mobile radar for the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system, the report said. It fell short only in delivering launchers and interceptors for the THAAD system, which were delayed by problems with an optical safety switch on the interceptors, it said.
Dallas-based Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control was awarded a $619 million contract in 2006 to deliver 48 operational interceptors and six launchers for the first two THAAD batteries. The company was expected to deliver 24 interceptors and three launchers by the end of 2010 before the problem with the safety switch was found. These deliveries have now started and MDA expects the first 32 interceptors and three launchers to be delivered by the end of this year, Lehner said.
The component problem also delayed by a year the award of a production contract to Lockheed Martin for the third and fourth THAAD batteries. Lockheed Martin announced March 30 it had been awarded a $695 million THAAD contract to deliver 48 interceptors, six launchers and four fire control units by the end of 2013. The contract also includes a $94.8 million option to produce additional launchers, a press release said.
The MDA made strides in 2010 to increase its transparency and accountability, the report said. The Government Accountability Office in its review of MDA’s 2009 progress recommended the agency provide Congress with detailed cost, schedule and testing baselines for each element of the ballistic missile defense system. Baselines for 12 distinct programs were delivered to Congress in June and are much more comprehensive than materials provided in previous years, the report said.
However, the Government Accountability Office identified “shortcomings that limit the ability to track cost and schedule growth and performance.” For example, the MDA for many programs used the term “life cycle costs,” but in some cases it is not clear whether these figures include disposals costs and operations and sustainment costs, the report said. The report also found six of the 12 baselines “contained insufficient evidence to meet the characteristics of a high-quality cost estimate.”