Magazine article Arms Control Today

Pentagon Awards Two Major Missile Defense Contracts

Magazine article Arms Control Today

Pentagon Awards Two Major Missile Defense Contracts

Article excerpt

IN THE SPAN of a week, the Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency (MDA) doled out two contracts worth close to $9 billion for future U.S. missile defense work. One contract is for developing an interceptor to hit missiles soon after they are launched, while the second is for building targets and decoys that will be used to test missile defenses.

On Dec. 3, MDA announced that Northrop Grumman Corp. won a competition to develop and test the proposed Kinetic Energy Interceptor (KEI), which is intended to intercept enemy missiles within the first three to five minutes of their flights. During this period known as the boost phase, missiles have yet to reach their top speed nor have they typically dispersed their warheads or any possible decoys. An enemy could employ decoys and other countermeasures to try to confuse U.S. systems from hitting a missile's true warhead.

The new interceptor will be comprised of three boosters and a separating kill vehicle. MDA is seeking the ability to fire the interceptor, which will travel faster than six kilometers per second, both from mobile land- and sea-based platforms. The Navy is evaluating the possibility of putting the proposed interceptor on its Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruisers or ballistic missile submarines.

Basing such systems at sea or mounting them on mobile land-based platforms would have been prohibited under the 1972 AntiBallistic Missile Treaty, from which the United States withdrew on June 13, 2002.

Northrop Grumman's contract is worth approximately $4.5 billion over the next eight years, pending annual congressional approval of the Pentagon's missile defense funding requests. Congress has trimmed less and less from proposed missile defense budgets in each of the Bush administration's three years in office. Although shifting funds from one program to another, the Congress granted the Pentagon all but $5 million of a $9.1 billion request for fiscal year 2004. (See ACT, October 2003.)

The new program's goal is to field the mobile land-based interceptor by as early as 2010. Tentative program benchmarks include building the first interceptor prototype between 2006 and 2008 and beginning flight testing in 2008.

MDA stated that the new interceptor would provide advantages over systems which would intercept enemy missiles later in their flight, including the possibility that, "in the event of a successful intercept, the missile and its payload of weapons of mass destruction...may fall back on the country from which it was launched. …

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