The Pentagon’s inspector general has begun a quality review of Raytheon Co.’s manufacturing of the primary interceptor used in the U.S. ballistic missile defense system.
The assessment of production processes for the hit-to-kill warhead will be conducted at the U.S. Missile Defense Agency’s program office in Huntsville, Alabama, and the company’s plant in Tucson, Arizona, according to a Sept. 24 memo signed by Randolph Stone, the deputy inspector general for policy and oversight.
“We won’t have a comment” on the inspector general’s review, Jon Kasle, a spokesman for Waltham, Massachusetts-based Raytheon, said in an e-mailed statement. Missile Defense Agency spokesman Rick Lehner said in an e-mail that “we have no comment on this topic while an audit is under way.”
The ground-based system has failed to intercept a target successfully in tests since December 2008. The program managed by Boeing Co., which has cost more than $36.5 billion so far, has drawn criticism for flaws in quality. A part missing from a warhead caused the failure of a $200 million interception test in January 2010. That failure and another in December 2010 that wasn’t related to quality forced a suspension of warhead deliveries that remains in effect.
“We conduct quality assurance assessments of critical defense systems on a regular basis using various factors to identify systems to examine,” Stone said in an e-mailed statement.
His office on Sept. 30 issued a quality assurance review of the F-35 fighter, the Pentagon’s costliest weapons system, that found non-compliance with standards at Bethesda, Maryland-based Lockheed Martin Corp. and five top subcontractors.
The quality review of the Exoatmospheric Kill Vehicle from Raytheon, the world’s largest missile maker, is being conducted in coordination with the Missile Defense Agency. The warhead is a non-explosive weapon, intended to pulverize an incoming ballistic missile by colliding with it at high speed. It separates from its booster and flies on its own, guided by internal sensors.
In the January 2010 test, the Raytheon interceptor failed to hit the target when its warhead thruster malfunctioned because of a missing component called a lockwire, according to the Missile Defense Agency.
An attempted intercept test in July failed when the warhead didn’t separate from the booster rocket. The cause is still under investigation.
Stone was the Missile Defense Agency’s director of quality and safety in 2006, when Raytheon was docked an undisclosed amount in fees after an audit determined that manufacturing processes at the company’s Tucson facility couldn’t ensure consistent production of reliable warheads.
Pentagon officials said a year later that the company had improved its processes.
Army Lieutenant General Patrick O’Reilly, who headed the Missile Defense Agency at the time, told a House of Representatives panel in 2009 that warheads had been delivered as many as 50 days behind schedule the previous year because of poor management and a “lack of discipline during assembly and testing.”