WASHINGTON — U.S. Senate appropriators have proposed canceling development of a missile interceptor that the Pentagon has slotted for a key role in the future defense of Europe.
In its version of the 2012 defense spending bill, unveiled Sept. 15, the Senate Appropriations Committee provides no funding for the Standard Missile (SM)-3 Block 2B interceptor, which is the subject of a three-way competition between Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Raytheon. The Missile Defense Agency (MDA) requested $123.5 million for the effort next year.
The SM-3 Block 2B, also known as the Next Generation Aegis Missile, is the latest of SM-3 variants either in development or undergoing testing. Raytheon Missile Systems of Tucson, Ariz., is prime contractor on the other two, as well on the operational SM-3 Block 1A variant deployed on U.S. Navy ships as part of the MDA’s Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense system.
In the report accompanying the bill, Senate appropriators said the SM-3 Block 2B is one development program too many at this time. “Each of these missiles is successively more capable and technologically complex,” the report says. “The Committee is concerned about the high concurrency of these developmental efforts, particularly in light of the development issues that have plagued the SM-3 Block 1B missile.”
The SM-3 Block 1B failed in its first intercept test Sept. 1, marring what has been an otherwise solid track record for the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense program in testing to date. The MDA is investigating the failure, which Senate lawmakers said could delay the fielding of that variant at a time of high demand for SM-3 capabilities from the U.S. military. Citing that demand, plus concerns about the industrial-base impact of an SM-3 production break, the committee directs the MDA to redirect funding requested next year for SM-3 Block 1B procurement to production of the older variant to the extent there is such a delay.
The MDA requested $565 million next year to buy 46 SM-3 Block 1B missiles.
The request also includes $424 million for the SM-3 Block 2A, which is being developed jointly with Japan and is slated for fielding in 2018. The bill recommends boosting that figure by $50 million, which would be drawn from the Block 2B/Next Generation Aegis program.
The SM-3 Block 2B interceptor is planned to be deployed in 2020 as part of the MDA’s Phased Adaptive Approach for European missile defense. The approach utilizes ship-based SM-3 variants in its current phase, but plans call for eventually deploying land-based variants capable of intercepting longer-range missiles on European territory.
The Next Generation Aegis Missile is expected to destroy missiles with ranges of up to 12,000 kilometers in the early stages of flight. The Block 1A and Block 1B missiles are designed to intercept short- to medium-range ballistic missiles, MDA spokesman Richard Lehner said.
But the committee says the requirements, acquisition strategy and deployment plan for the Block 2B/Next Generation Aegis interceptor remain uncertain. “Finally, the Committee understands that in its current form, the SM-3 Block 2B missile is of limited mission value due to technical constraints,” the report states.
The MDA in April awarded $127 million in Next Generation Aegis Missile design contracts to three competitors. Lockheed Martin Corp. of Bethesda, Md., received $43.3 million; Raytheon Missile Systems was awarded $42.7 million; and Boeing Defense, Space & Security of St. Louis was awarded $41.2 million.
Those contracts will continue as scheduled, Lehner said.
“There’s a long way to go until there’s a signed defense bill,” he said. “It’s part of the president’s program. But we don’t comment on it yet; that’s just not appropriate for us.”
Riki Ellison, founder of the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance here, said development of the SM-3 Block 2B should continue. “The whole reason behind this program was to get to this point,” Ellison said. “If they want to cut funding from [the SM-3 Block 2B], then maybe they need to start looking at alternatives for how to protect the U.S. and Europe.”
Ellison said it is still early to be alarmed about the proposed cut, since the U.S. House of Representatives did not cut funding for the program in its defense spending bill passed in the summer.
On other missile defense-related programs, the Senate appropriators recommended:
- No funding for the Airborne Infrared system, designed to detect ballistic missiles from aircraft. The MDA requested $47 million for that effort. The lawmakers also raised questions about an effort to develop airborne missile interceptors.
- Adding $130 million to the MDA’s $106 million request for cooperative programs with Israel. These programs include the Arrow interceptor and the David’s Sling weapon system.
- Trimming the MDA’s request for the Theater High Altitude Area Defense system by $162 million, to $671 million. The report cited producibility issues on the program.
- Full funding, at $1.1 billion, for the Ground-based Midcourse Defense system, the MDA’s primary U.S. territorial missile shield. Boeing is currently prime contractor on the program, but the MDA is holding a competition for a contract to take over the system’s continued development, operation and maintenance.
- Full funding, at $96 million, for the Space Tracking and Surveillance System, a pair of experimental satellites designed to track missile warheads as they coast through space.