Lockheed Martin Corp., the world's largest defense contractor, plans to design a missile defense component that can take out multiple warheads.
The Bethesda, Maryland-based company on Thursday said it will design a multi-object kill vehicle for the Pentagon's ground-based missile defense system under a $10 million contract from the Missile Defense Agency.
"We will devise and explore the most effective solutions for destroying more than one warhead with a single interceptor, an important step in changing the cost curve for missile defense engagement," Doug Graham, vice president of missile systems and advanced programs at Lockheed Martin Space Systems, said in the release.
Such a "multi-tasking" system could thwart an attack involving a single missile that releases a group of objects that includes the warhead plus decoys that are warhead lookalikes, the release states.
The announcement comes a few months after Navy Adm. James Winnefeld, the former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, talked about the need to advance the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense System so interceptors are capable of striking multiple incoming targets.
"It boils down to how many missiles we can knock down versus how many the threat can launch," Winnefeld said during a May 19 speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.
"If, for example, because of system improvements, we only have to shoot half the number of interceptors per incoming warhead that we see, then we can handle twice the number of inbound warheads," he said. "That's why we're taking a lot of time and effort to improve the capability and reliability of our entire system."
Lockheed appears to be have teamed with some of the other defense contractors charged with developing the Ground-based Midcourse Defense system.
Boeing Co., the world's largest aerospace company, is the program's prime contractor; Dulles, Virginia-based Orbital Sciences Corp. builds the interceptor; and Waltham, Massachusetts-based Raytheon Co. makes the kill vehicle.
Earlier this year, Navy Vice Adm. James Syring, director of the Missile Defense Agency, announced plans to oversee the purchase of the so-called Redesigned Kill Vehicle. According to an article by Amy Butler, a reporter for Aviation Week & Space Technology, Syring talked about hit during a Feb. 2 briefing on the agency's $8.13 billion budget request for 2016:
"We are seeking approval for a government design authority approach where we would manage [the activities of] three contractors—Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and Boeing—and the development of the design ... We would design the trade studies that will be conducted in terms of best components and best subcomponents. In the end it will be our design."For the GMD program alone, the Pentagon requested $1.6 billion. The funding, if approved by Congress, would be used to conduct more flight tests and redesign parts of the system. It would also go toward upgrading and expanding the number of interceptors from 30 to 44, including an eventual 40 at the Army’s Fort Greely in Alaska and four at the Air Force’s Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
Lawmakers in recent years have raised doubts about the technology, which hit targets in only 8 of 15 attempts through mid-July 2013; the high cost of testing, which runs more than $215 million per exercise; and the fact that many of the interceptors aren’t operational.
Syring has acknowledged the system faced a more demanding development schedule that resulted in interceptors being deployed before testing was complete. Indeed, when a three-stage booster launched from Vandenberg and intercepted a dummy warhead last summer, it was the first successful test in five years.
“I was in the room watching it and you can imagine what it felt like to watch that thing have an extremely successful intercept,” Winnefeld said. “It was a very good shot in the arm for that program. Based on the success of that shot, we were able to resume production of eight planned GBIs in the new and improved configuration,” he said, referring to the Capability Enhancement II, or CE-II, design.
There are a total of eight improved CE-2 interceptors, Winnefeld said. A non-intercept flight is set for later this summer, he said. An intercept test involving a CE-2 Block 1 that incorporates obsolescent changes and a new booster avionics package is scheduled for the end of the year, he said.
“That’s going to be our first intercept of a true ICBM-range target,” he said of the latter. “Should that intercept be successful, the plan is to deliver 10 CE-2 Block 1 GBIs over the next year to achieve our goal of 44 GBIs by the end of 2017.”