The US Missile Defense Agency should consider redesigning a key part of its ground-based missile defence system following a series of test failures, a new report has said.
The report by Pentagon's chief arms tester has reviewed glitches that occurred during the system’s testing over the past three years, including a failed intercept test last July. The system is jointly built by Boeing, Raytheon and Orbital Sciences. While Boeing is responsible for the long-range missile threat defence, Raytheon and Orbital Sciences are working on the interceptors and rockets used by the system – the part proved to be most prone to failures.
"The flight test failures … raise questions regarding the robustness of the Exoatmospheric Kill Vehicle (EKV)," said the report, referring to the Raytheon-built part of the rocket used to hit enemy missiles and destroy them on impact.
Michael Gilmore, the Pentagon's director of operational test and evaluation (DOT&E), proposed the agency performed the failed intercept test again and considered whether to redesign the "kill vehicle" to secure it against failure.
Gilmore's report, which circulated in Washington on Tuesday ahead of Wednesday's official release, was praised by two groups closely monitoring developments on the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system designed by Boeing.
"It appears that DOT&E has finally come to the conclusion that the GMD interceptors ... may be so flawed that a complete redesign is required," said Kingston Reif, of the nonprofit Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation.
He said neither of the two current versions of the so-called "kill vehicle" designed by Raytheon, had seen a successful flight intercept test since 2008.
Reif said Gilmore's latest report raised questions about the Boeing-run missile defence system, and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel's plan to build and deploy 14 more existing ground based interceptors, which have the older "kill vehicles," in Alaska at a cost of $1bn (£0.6bn).
Riki Ellison, founder of the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance, said he expects the Pentagon's fiscal 2015 budget plan to ask for $560 million in funding over the next five years to develop a new kill vehicle, with an aim to start operating it in 2019. Additional funding would be needed to upgrade and fix the existing interceptors in the meantime, he added.
US plan to deploy its anti-missile shield in Europe have been widely criticised by Russia who sees it as an attempt to undermine its security, upsetting the post-Cold War strategic balance. Efforts to turn years of confrontation over the issue into cooperation have failed.