Another test, another dollar spent (actually tens of millions), another long-range missile interceptor misses its target. Following two failures of the Exo-atmospheric Kill Vehicle in January and December 2010, the Pentagon has directed Raytheon to cease delivery of this missile interceptor.
The “kill vehicle” is an integral part of the ground-based mid-course system that the U.S. government has spent billions developing, despite its spotty track record. The purpose of this device, an interceptor, is to take out long-range missiles, sent by hostile actors (cough, North Korea, cough, Iran), to prevent missiles coming anywhere near U.S. soil.
Despite recently updating the kill-vehicle (making it Raytheon’s most advanced anti-missile device) it has only passed one out of three tests. The original and updated versions have failed seven out of fifteen tests. I wouldn’t bet my security on a 53% success rate.
While the launch and release segments of January’s test worked, in the last seconds the interceptor did not hit its target. The kill-vehicle and the mobile radar system, the Sea-based X-band, were blamed for the failure, but in the December breakdown, only the interceptor failed. An investigation of the malfunction is ongoing, but these tests spell major problems with the device.
I’ll add that you and I contribute financially to each test, which run about $150 million an attempt. Boeing (for whom Raytheon is working on this contract) spokesperson Jessica Carlton did not comment on whether Raytheon will face fines for the test failures/wasting my money.
The Government Accountability Office has called on the Missile Defense Agency to continue reforms in transparency and accountability in order to demonstrate system performance before the missile defense production and acquisition resumes. That’s great, except you and I have already bought at least 52 of these kill-vehicles from Raytheon at $20-$25million a head. Carlton also would not say how many more kill-vehicles the Missile Defense Agency contracted Raytheon to build.
There is no set schedule for recommencing delivery of the kill-vehicle because it is contingent on the results of the December failed-test investigation. However, the Missile Defense Agency doesn’t seem disheartened by the test failures and has allowed Raytheon to keep working on parts of the kill-vehicle that did not fail during the test. This way, Raytheon can restart production quickly as soon as the investigation is complete and the agency can start stocking up again. Such confidence seems unfounded considering that the interceptor has not been able to even find an incoming test ballistic missile in the air, let alone disable it, which demands hitting an area, just a few centimeters wide.
For similar overconfidence, see knee-jerk Republican endorsement of Missile Defense.
Update: The sea-based inter-ballistic missile component of this mid-course missile defense system successfully intercepted an intermediate-range missile for the first time during a test April 15,2011.