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Air Force Lifts Suspension on Buys From L-3’s Coleman Aerospace

The Air Force last month lifted a yearlong suspension of purchases from an L-3 Communications Holdings Inc. unit after it corrected quality problems on its missile defense programs.

The suspension was imposed because Orlando, Florida-based Coleman Aerospace supplied a faulty target that aborted a $41.2 million missile defense test in December 2009.

The Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center suspended target purchases until Coleman fixed the flaws.

The suspension was lifted May 9 after the center and the and Missile Defense Agency “concluded Coleman has cured the failures and satisfactorily completed corrective action steps,” said MDA spokesman Richard Lehner in an e-mailed statement. The Air Force center had no immediate comment.

Lifting the suspension is good news for the company and the missile agency, which has been focused on improving quality among its contractors, said Cristina Chaplain, a missile defense director with the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

“Our work shows MDA and other agencies are making concerted efforts to address quality problems,” Chaplain said. “But the issue is pervasive and a challenge to fix, given broader issues such as diffuse leadership, workforce gaps, and trends within the aerospace industry,” she said.

The Coleman target missile failed to launch during the test because of an incorrectly rigged connector. The target missile was dropped from the rear of a C-17 transport and was supposed to launch under its own power for potential intercept by a Lockheed Martin Corp. Thaad missile.

Electrical Short

Instead, the poorly rigged connector caused an electrical short. The short caused a voltage drop that reset the missile’s computer, preventing proper engine ignition, the service said last year.

“As the episode shows, though parts quality problems are relatively small in comparison to the numbers of parts being dealt with on major missile defense and space programs, they can have detrimental and costly effects,” Chaplain said

Coleman looks forward “to continuing our productive relationship with SMC to ensure delivery of high quality targets and products for use by MDA,” said spokesman Jennifer Barton.

“L-3 took immediate action last spring, by submitting and executing a detailed plan, while also assigning a new on-site corporate executive to aid in the process,” she said in an e-mail. “L-3 also transferred operational responsibility for Coleman to our Electronic Systems Group,” she said.

Recounting the target missile failure, the then-Missile Defense Agency Executive Director, the late David Altwegg, said during a Feb. 2, 2010, briefing that “we all sat there and watched the target fall into the water.”

The target had a “big-time quality problem,” Altwegg said.

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