Ramon Lopez/WASHINGTON DC

The US Department of Defense is expected to choose the prime contractor for the multi-billion dollar National Missile Defense Lead System Integrator (NMD LSI) programme in April, say US defence industry officials.

The two competing teams submitted their proposals in November to the US Ballistic Missile Defense Organization (BMDO) for the execution phase contract, worth an initial $1.5 billion. Best and final contract offers are due in early March.

The officials say that the value of the work could be as much as $10 billion if the ground based anti-ballistic missile weapon is deployed to protect the USA. Late in 1996, the Pentagon set $6.6 billion as the baseline cost estimate for research, development, test and evaluation of the NMD.

Competitors include United Missile Defense - a joint venture between Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and TRW - and a second team, led by Boeing, which includes the former McDonnell Douglas and Rockwell, which have merged with Boeing.

In 1997, each team worked under $8 million concept definition contracts to define an integrated NMD system that would be designed, developed, integrated and tested over a three-year period beginning in April 1998.

The work will culminate in a critical integrated system test in 1999. The Pentagon will conduct a deployment readiness review in 2000 to decide whether an initial NMD network should be fielded by 2003.

The NMD system would consist of a network of radars; battle management command, control and communications assets; and boosters, each mounting a single exo-atmospheric kill vehicle (EKV).

An EKV developed by Raytheon employing an infra-red mercury cadmium telluride-based focal plane array was successfully tested on 15 January.

A rival EKV built by Boeing and employing an arsenic-doped silicon staring array was successfully tested on 23 June, 1997. Later this year, an attempt will be made with each of the Boeing and Raytheon EKVs to intercept a simulated ballistic missile target in space.

Yet to be decided is where the NMD system would be located in the USA. Minot AFB in Grand Forks, North Dakota, is a candidate site.

The ground-based interceptor will either be developed from the Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile or a booster proposed by the winning NMD LSI contractor.

The BMDO will make the rocket selection 90 days after the NMD LSI contractor is named.

Source: Flight International