MDA Eyes Reduced Cost For Targets

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By Amy Butler

The director of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA), Army Lt. Gen. Patrick O’Reilly, says the agency is rethinking its targets acquisition strategy to attain economies of scale and cut the per-unit cost of target missiles used in flight tests.

To date, missile defense tests rely on targets that use motors and components from the Navy’s Polaris and Trident missiles, which are decades old and, thus, less reliable. A delay or problem with targets can act as a pacing item for flight-tests, which cost hundreds of million of dollars to execute. The Lockheed Martin-led Flexible Target Family program is expected to address the fickle propulsion part of the target missile.

However, O’Reilly is looking for a new strategy to attain the “top end,” or warhead-area tip, of target missiles, according to one of his aides. In recent tests, MDA has tried to test its system against countermeasures but failed because the countermeasures did not deploy as planned. Much of this work is done by the Sandia National Laboratories.

Sandia is a multiprogram laboratory operated by Sandia Corp., a Lockheed company, for the Energy Department’s National Nuclear Security Administration.

Industry responses to an MDA request for information to explore a new acquisition strategy for the target missiles have been good, according to agency officials.

Air Force Maj. Gen. Chris Anzalone, MDA’s test director, says the agency hopes to have some inventory available for target systems. Currently, if a target system is not ready for flight, an entire test can be put on hold for months.

Costs of most targets are about $65 million — although some can go as high as $90 million — for flight demonstrations of the Aegis Standard Missile-3 or Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) programs. The problem, O’Reilly notes, is the cost of the interceptors: at about $10 million apiece, they pale in comparison to the price of the target vehicles when an SM-3 or Thaad interceptor is at play. Ground-Based Interceptors (GBIs) cost about $50 million apiece, he adds.

Meanwhile, O’Reilly says MDA is “restructuring” the test program to include more collaboration with the armed services’ operational test and evaluation (OT&E) community. Successes of the system against tests derived by the community — MDA’s tests come out of the development and acquisition arm of the Pentagon, by contrast — also will “bolster the deterrence” qualities of the system, O’Reilly says. They will pit the system in operational test scenarios against the very missiles that threat nations are seeking to acquire.

A new test plan is expected this summer and it will project trials for the next six years.

O’Reilly also noted that the threat is driving MDA’s focus toward developing ascent-phase capabilities and against threats in theater. He says that of more than 5,900 threat missiles, 93 percent are only capable of 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) of flight or less. Six percent can fly 1,000-3,000 kilometers, and 1 percent are intercontinental ballistic missile threats.

Focusing on the theater-range threats carries the “greatest potential of reducing” the cost of U.S. missile defenses, he says.

Photo: MDA

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