Pentagon plans work on new missile defense interceptor

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - The next US military budget will include funds to overhaul Boeing Co's ground-based missile defense system and develop a replacement for an interceptor built by Raytheon Co, the Pentagon's chief weapons buyer said Tuesday, citing "bad engineering" on the existing system.

"We've got to get to more reliable systems," Frank Kendall, undersecretary of defence for acquisition, technology and logistics, told a conference sponsored by McAleese and Associations and Credit Suisse.

Asked if the problems with the current interceptors stemmed from a shortage of funding, Kendall said he attributed the issues more to decisions to rush deployment of technologies that had not been completely and thoroughly tested.

"As we go back and understand the failures we're having and why we're having them, we're seeing a lot of bad engineering, frankly," Kendall said. "It's because there was a rush ... to get something out."

Given problems with all the currently fielded interceptors, a new development effort was needed, Kendall said.

"Just patching the things we've got is probably not going to be adequate. So we're going to have to go beyond that," he said, although he gave no details.

Reuters reported earlier this month that the Pentagon planned to ask Congress for US$4.5 billion (S$5.7 billion) in additional funding for missile defence over the next five years, including US$560 million for work on a new interceptor after several failed flight tests in recent years.

The White House plans to send its fiscal 2015 budget request to Congress on March 4. Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel previewed the Pentagon's portion of the budget on Monday but did not provide specific details about missile defence.

Missile defence is one of the biggest items in the Pentagon's annual budget, although Republicans have faulted the Obama administration for scaling back funding in recent years.

Raytheon, Boeing, and Lockheed Martin Corp are already working on early designs of a new "common kill vehicle", the part of the ground-based interceptor that hits and destroys an incoming enemy missile on contact. The new development effort would likely accelerate and expand that programme, but details have not been released.

Sources familiar with the process say the Pentagon now plans to fund development of a new interceptor, specifically the kill vehicle.

Missile defence experts say that problems with the Raytheon kill vehicle stem from the fact that testing and development were not complete when the Bush administration opted to deploy some initial ground-based interceptors.

The kill vehicle is part of the larger ground-based missile defence system managed by Boeing, with a rocket built by Orbital Sciences Corp.

Michael Gilmore, the Defence Department's chief weapons tester, earlier this month questioned the robustness of the Raytheon kill vehicle after a series of test failures and said the Pentagon should consider a redesign.

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