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Pentagon Increasingly Vocal About Shoddy Weapons Builders

This article by Amy Butler first appeared in Aviation Week & Space Technology.

Complaints from Pentagon officials -- from Defense Secretary Robert Gates down through the ranks -- are mounting about the quality of products from the aerospace industry.

David Altwegg, executive director of the Missile Defense Agency (MDA), grabbed journalists' attention during his Fiscal 2011 budget briefing on Feb. 1. He railed that contractors had been delivering poor quality. "We continue to be disappointed in the quality that we are receiving from our prime contractors and their subs -- very, very disappointed," he said. "Most of these contracts are cost contracts . . . [a problem that] costs the taxpayer more."

Although Altwegg declined to "name names," he cited one example. A C-17-launched target failed to execute its mission, bringing an entire Terminal High-Altitude Air Defense (Thaad) system to a halt in December. The target, made by Coleman Aerospace (which is owned by L-3 Communications), was found to have a "big-time quality problem," Altwegg said. "Along about 20,000 ft. [altitude], the booster motors light off and the target assumes the trajectory toward the firing unit. We all sat there and watched the target fall into the water."

The MDA has had issues with other targets, as well as earlier problems with Boeing's quality of work in the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense program. Also, a Raytheon SM-3 Block IA interceptor failed during a flight test in July because of poor adherence to processes at the assembly line in Tucson, Ariz.

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