The US Department of Defense has selected Boeing to oversee development, integration and possibly deployment of a system of interceptors and radars designed to defend the USA against a ballistic missile attack.

The company won the selection at the expense of United Missile Defense, a joint venture between Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and TRW, as the National Missile Defense (NMD) lead system integrator contractor.The initial award provides $1.6 billion for a three year development programme. With options for up to seven years, the value of the work would rise to $5.2 billion. The contract has a potential value of $10 billion over the next decade.

US Air Force Lt Gen Lester Lyles says that Boeing was "the clear winner from a best value determination" which considered technical proposals, management expertise, past performance and cost. Although not specific, Lyles says there was a "significant difference" between the two cost bids. He says Lockheed Martin's past performance in the troubled Theater High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) programme was not "a major discriminator" in the selection process.

The selection comes against the background of a recent warning by the Pentagon's test and evaluation group that the NMD schedule may be too ambitious, since THAAD flight test failures showed that hit-to-kill technology is more difficult than had been anticipated, but Lyles says: "There is no doubt in my mind that we will be able to make it work."

John Peller, Boeing's NMD project manager, says that the aggressive schedule is "the biggest risk." He says "-meeting the milestones is not guaranteed", but Peller believes fielding an anti-ballistic missile system is achievable.

Under the current plan, Boeing will develop the system over the next three years, leading to a deployment decision in the year 2000. If the go-ahead is given, the NMD would be deployed three years later.

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).

Boeing says that either the surplus Minuteman rocket or a three stage hybrid civil expendable launch vehicle could do the job. The Pentagon will decide on the booster within 90 days.

The hit-to-kill weapon will be selected after EKVs developed by Boeing and Raytheon are tested against simulated ballistic missile targets in space later this year and in early 1999 over the central Pacific Ocean. A full test of the entire NMD system is planned for next year.

Source: Flight International