The US Missile Defense Agency on Tuesday mapped out plans to overhaul the ground-based US missile defense system managed by Boeing Co and improve its reliability after several test failures in recent years.
Missile Defense Agency Director Vice Admiral James Syring said the US government was requesting about US$300 million in fiscal 2015 to redesign the Raytheon Co “kill vehicle” that hits and destroys an enemy missile on contact, add a new long-range radar and fund other measures to helping the system better identify, track and destroy potential enemy missiles.
The agency’s budget request, which must still be approved by the US Congress, also funds longer-term initiatives to improve the system a decade after what were essentially prototypes that were rushed into operational use.
Overall, the budget requests US$8.5 billion for missile defense, including about US$7.5 billion for the Missile Defense Agency. Missile defense is one of the biggest items in the Pentagon’s annual budget, although Republicans have faulted the US President Barack Obama administration for scaling back funding in recent years.
US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said the budget, which was shaped by a major review of defense strategy, underscored the continued importance of missile defense, along with space, cyber and special operations, giving rapidly emerging threats.
Syring said the decision by former US president George W. Bush’s administration to deploy the fledgling missile defense system in 2004 was aimed at countering “a very real threat,” but it cut short systems engineering and testing of the system. A slower process would have avoided some of the problems seen now, he said.
Pentagon acquisition chief Frank Kendall told a conference last week that the reviews of the program had revealed “bad engineering” on the current system.
Syring said reforms were needed now, especially given Hagel’s decision to add 14 more interceptors to the 30 in place in California and Alaska.
“The final step now is to step back ... to now look at this from a bottoms-up design standpoint and not just keep making reliability improvements ... on the margin,” Syring said.
He said the goal was to deploy a redesigned kill vehicle, new long-range radar and other measures by 2020. The Pentagon said the new kill vehicle would be built with a modular, open architecture and designed with common interfaces to make upgrades easier, and help broaden the vendor and supplier base.
Syring said decisions would be made soon on how to proceed with the redesign of the kill vehicle, factoring in schedule, cost and price.