Boeing missile defense system fails 2nd test in row

By Reuters
Posted Dec. 15, 2010 at 5:53 p.m.

A test of the sole U.S. defense against long-range ballistic missiles failed again Wednesday, the second failure in a row involving the system managed by Boeing Co., the Defense Department said.

“The Missile Defense Agency was unable to achieve a planned intercept of a ballistic missile target during a test over the Pacific Ocean (Wednesday),” Richard Lehner, an agency spokesman, said in an e-mailed statement. No preliminary explanation of the failure was provided.

The miss brought the so-called ground-based midcourse defense’s record to eight intercepts out of 15 tries, as reckoned by the Missile Defense Agency.

“This is a tremendous setback for the testing of this complicated system,” Riki Ellison, head of the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance, a booster group, said in a statement. He said it raised troubling questions about the reliability of the 30 or so interceptor missiles in silos in Alaska and California.

The test was a repeat of a Jan. 31 exercise in which an advanced sea-based radar had not performed as expected.

In the test Wednesday, an intermediate-range ballistic missile target flew successfully from a test site on Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands, as did a long-range interceptor launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, the agency said.

The sea-based X-Band radar and all sensors performed as planned, and the interceptor successfully deployed a “kill vehicle” designed to collide with the target, the statement said.

It said officials  pin down the cause of the failure to intercept. The next flight test will be determined after the failure’s cause is identified, it added.

A Boeing spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The multibillion-dollar ground-based bulwark is designed to shoot down a limited number of long-range ballistic missiles carrying chemical, biological or nuclear warheads.

It networks systems on land, at sea and sensors in space to counter ballistic missiles of all ranges.

The United States has spent more than $10 billion a year on a range of missile defense programs in recent years.

In October, a converted Boeing 747 jumbo jet with a chemical laser failed to knock out a target ballistic missile over the Pacific, marking that system’s second such failed intercept test in a row. The flying laser has been scaled back to a kind of science experiment, no longer  aimed at eventual deployment.

Boeing’s chief subcontractors on the ground-based midcourse defense include Raytheon Co., Northrop Grumman Corp. and Orbital Sciences Corp.

A team led by Lockheed Martin Corp. and Raytheon is competing to oust Boeing next year and take over continued development, manufacturing, test, training, operations support and sustainment of the ground-based defense. The contract is worth about $4.2 billion over seven years.

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