The Missile Defense Agency is struggling with lousy quality control among its contractors, its executive director said during today's budget briefing.
David Altwegg, a highly respected missileer and engineer, told reporters that he and his colleagues stood watching a recent THAAD test. A drogue parachute pulled the target out of a C-17. "We all stood there and watched it fall into the water," said an obviously disgusted Altweg. A failure review board was convened and found the test failed due to "a quality control problem."
But THAAD was not the only program with a quality problem, Altweg said. "Across the enterprise quality is a concern," he said. The companies working for MDA suffer from "a lack of attention to detail. Missilery is all about detail," he said with controlled passion. Altweg would not identify any particular companies but made clear there were very few that do no have quality problems.
"We are working this problem assiduously," he said, saying that MDA send experts to companies to help them improve, "but we continue to have quality problems."
Altweg began talking about quality control after he was asked about yesterday's failed Ground-based Midcourse test. The Missile Defense Agency simulated an Iranian missile attack and tried to destroy the target. The target missile, fired from Kwajalein in the Marshall Islands, and the interceptor, fired from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, performed normally. "However, the Sea-Based X-band radar did not perform as expected," the agency said in a statement. Allweg said the radar may not have been solely to blame. "I am not saying it was solely an SBX problem," he told reporters.
MDA has am $8.4 billion budget for 2011, a $500 million increase from the previous year. "Most" of the new MDA money is for THAAD and Aegis anti-missile systems, Altwegg said. This is all part of the administration's changed focus from GMD and the missile sites in Poland and Czech Republic to the more flexible approach using SM-3s and other systems focused on countering short- and medium-term threats from Iran, Altwegg said.
The Israeli Arrows 3 anti-missile system, which has received U.S. funding for several years, remains a high-risk proposition, Altwegg said. The U.S. has offered Israel Aegis as an alternative to Arrow but they have so far declined. There is $122 million in the 2011 budget for Arrow 3 and David's Sling, said the executive director.