Lockheed Martin and Orbital Sciences developing interceptor vehicles, with verification tests due early this year

Two missile defence tests have been cancelled as the US Department of Defense waits for development of new interceptor boosters for the ground-based mid-course defence (GMD) system. The last GMD test, on 11 December, failed when the exoatmospheric kill vehicle did not separate from the surrogate booster used for all flights to date.

Lockheed Martin and Orbital Sciences are competitively developing new boost vehicles for GMD prime contractor Boeing. Booster verification tests are planned for early this year, leading to GMD integrated flight tests (IFT) 13A and 13B in the second quarter, using the Lockheed Martin and Orbital boosters, respectively. Neither test will involve an interception, says the US Missile Defense Agency (MDA).

The next intercept tests, IFT 14 and 15, both scheduled for the fourth quarter, will use the new boosters. Whether there is a downselection to one booster for future tests and subsequent deployment of the GMD system is up to Boeing. "They could keep both," says the MDA.

Lockheed Martin is developing the BV-Plus, a modified version of the three-stage booster that was being developed by Boeing. A delay of around 18 months in development of the production booster by prime contractor Boeing led to award of the competitive contracts.

Orbital Sciences' $450 million contract covers nine demonstration and test flights by 2006, including seven GMD IFTs, and includes options for 50 production boosters worth $535 million. The USA has decided to deploy 10 interceptors in Alaska and four in California by the end of 2004, adding four more in Alaska in 2005.

The UK government says it is likely to agree to a US request to upgrade a ballistic missile early warning radar at RAF Flying dales in northern England as part of the GMD warning network. A "preliminary analysis" indicates that "the answer to the US request must be yes, and that we should agree to the US upgrade proposal", says UK defence secretary Geoff Hoon.

Source: Flight International