Missile Defense Agency Progress Cited in Fixing Warhead

The Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency has pursued a rigorous process to investigate and solve a guidance flaw in the latest model of Raytheon Co.’s anti-missile interceptor, according to government auditors.

Since two interceptors failed in 2010, the agency has convened an independent review board and “conducted over 50 component and subcomponent failure investigation and resolution tests,” the U.S. Government Accountability Office said in its annual missile defense report issued today.

The result was a successful initial flight in January that didn’t seek to intercept a dummy warhead. That has allowed planing for an intercept attempt later this year to show the redesigned warhead works.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has said a successful interception is required to proceed with his plans to add 14 interceptors by 2017 to U.S. missile defenses in Alaska to counter threats from North Korea and Iran.

The added interceptors would bring the total to 44 in Alaska at Fort Greely and in California at Vandenberg Air Force Base. The system hasn’t successfully intercepted a test target since December 2008.

In 2010, the system failed to hit a target in two tests using the new, more-sophisticated warhead, one in January and the other in December. After those failures, the agency discovered a flaw in the guidance system of the newest Raytheon-made warhead.

The process, including the two test failures, investigation and retesting, will cost an estimated $1.2 billion, the GAO said. The cost to demonstrate the new warhead works “continues to grow due to delays in conducting the next intercept tests,” adding $3 million a month.

‘Developmental Challenges’

Certification of the new warhead’s effectiveness has been delayed more than five years, “as a consequence of developmental challenges, flight test failures, failure review boards” and intercept preparation activities, the GAO, Congress’s watchdog agency, said.

Through fiscal 2012, the U.S. has spent about $36.5 billion on the Boeing Co.-managed system of ground-based interceptors, radar and command and control networks. It plans to spend an additional $4.5 billion through 2017.

Major missile defense contractors on the ground-based system are Chicago-based Boeing Co.; Dulles, Virginia-based Orbital Sciences Corp.; Waltham, Massachusetts-based Raytheon Co.; and Falls Church, Virginia-based Northrop Grumman Corp.

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