In a change of direction, the U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA) now intends to combine the contracts for the development and the operations and sustainment of the nation’s primary strategic missile shield and competitively award a single contract expected to be worth around $600 million a year, according to a Nov. 25 posting on the Federal Business Opportunities Web site.

Boeing Integrated Defense Systems of St. Louis has been the prime contractor on the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system since 1998, responsible for both the development and the operations and sustainment of missile defense installations in Alaska and California.

In March 2008, the MDA announced it would split the GMD work by 2011, continuing to contract with Boeing for system development while holding a new competition for the operations and sustainment work. At that time, Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Sunnyvale, Calif., Raytheon Integrated Defense Systems of Tewksbury, Mass., and Northrop Grumman Corp. of Los Angeles announced they would challenge Boeing for the operations and sustainment work. In the meantime, Boeing was issued a $397 million GMD development contract and a $250 million operations and sustainment contract for 2009, both of which were awarded without holding a competition.

Now the agency intends to go back to the single contractor approach, the posting said. A draft request for proposals will be issued in early 2010, and a contract is expected to be awarded in early 2011. MDA spokesman Rick Lehner was not able to provide an explanation for the change by press time.