Ramon Lopez/WASHINGTON DC

The US Department of Defense (DoD) has warned that the tight schedule for development and possible deployment of a US national defence network against ballistic missile attack may be too ambitious.

Phillip Coyle, the Pentagon's director of operational test and evaluation, says in his annual report that the schedule for the National Missile Defense (NMD) programme "-presents a major challenge relative to traditional DoD acquisition timelines".

The DoD expects to pick a prime contractor in April for the $1.5 billion first phase of the contract. The value of the work could rise to $10 billion if the ground based anti-ballistic missile weapon system is built. A critical integrated system test will take place in 1999, followed by a deployment readiness review in 2000 to determine whether an initial system should be fielded three years later.

A key NMD element is an exoatmospheric kill vehicle (EKV). Later this year, rival EKVs developed by Boeing and Raytheon will attempt to intercept a simulated ballistic missile target in space. Competing for the work are Boeing and United Missile Defense - a joint venture between Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and TRW.

Coyle says that only limited testing of the system has been conducted to date. Operational testing will not come before 2003, at the earliest, he adds. He says that Theater High Altitude Area Defense flight test failures show that hit to kill technology is more difficult than had been expected.

Source: Flight International