* Test was a repeat of a failed exercise in January
* No preliminary explanation of failure provided
* System is sole US defense against long-range missiles
(Updates throughout, adds companies involved)
By Jim Wolf
WASHINGTON, Dec 15 A test of the sole U.S.
defense against long-range ballistic missiles failed on
Wednesday, the second failure in a row involving the system
managed by Boeing Co (BA.N), the Defense Department said.
"The Missile Defense Agency was unable to achieve a planned
intercept of a ballistic missile target during a test over the
Pacific Ocean today," Richard Lehner, an agency spokesman, said
in an e-mailed statement. No preliminary explanation of the
failure was provided.
The miss brought the so-called ground-based midcourse
defense's batting record to eight intercepts out of 15 tries,
as reckoned by the Missile Defense Agency.
"This is a tremendous setback for the testing of this
complicated system," Riki Ellison, head of the Missile Defense
Advocacy Alliance, a booster group, said in a statement. He
said it raised troubling questions about the reliability of the
30 or so interceptor missiles deployed in silos in Alaska and
The test was a repeat of a Jan. 31 exercise in which an
advanced sea-based radar had not performed as expected.
In the test on Wednesday, an intermediate-range ballistic
missile target flew successfully from a test site on Kwajalein
Atoll in the Marshall Islands, as did a long-range interceptor
launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, the
The sea-based X-Band radar and all sensors performed as
planned, and the interceptor successfully deployed a "kill
vehicle" designed to collide with the target, the statement
It said officials will conduct an extensive investigation to
pin down the cause of the failure to intercept. The next flight
test will be determined after the failure's cause is
identified, it added.
A Boeing spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a
reqeust for comment.
The multibillion-dollar ground-based bulwark is designed to
shoot down a limited number of long-range ballistic missiles
that could be tipped with chemical, biological or nuclear
warheads. The system is part of a layered hedge against
countries such as North Korea and Iran.
It networks systems on land, at sea and sensors in space and
is meant to counter ballistic missiles of all ranges. The
United States has spent more than $10 billion a year on a range
of missile defense programs in recent years.
In October, a converted Boeing 747 jumbo jet equipped with a
chemical laser failed to knock out a target ballistic missile
over the Pacific, marking that system's second such failed
intercept test in a row. The flying laser has been scaled back
to a kind of science experiment, no longer a development
program aimed at eventual deployment.
Boeing's chief subcontractors on the ground-based midcourse
defense include Raytheon Co (RTN.N), Northrop Grumman Corp
(NOC.N) and Orbital Sciences Corp ORB.N.
A team led by Lockheed Martin Corp (LMT.N) and Raytheon is
competing to oust Boeing next year and take over continued
development, manufacturing, test, training, operations support
and sustainment of the ground-based defense. The contract is
worth about $4.2 billion over seven years.
(Reporting by Jim Wolf; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)