WASHINGTON, Sept 3 - The head of Boeing Co's (BA.N) defense business defended his company's work on a U.S. ground-based missile defense system even though it failed to intercept a missile during a test in July, and called for more frequent testing in the future.
Dennis Muilenburg, president and chief executive of Boeing Defense, Space & Security, told the Reuters Aerospace and Defense Summit that the Pentagon should complete its review of the failed July 5 intercept within a few weeks.
Reuters reported on July 12 that a faulty battery may have prevented the interceptor's separation from the rocket, an account confirmed by multiple sources since then.
Officials, speaking on background, said the lithium oxyhalide battery made by privately held Eagle Picher flickered off just before the planned separation. It was not immediately clear if the problem was caused by the battery itself or the electric circuits controlling it, they said.
Eagle Picher has declined comment.
U.S. defense officials have said only that the test involved an "anomaly" that caused the interceptor, which is built by Raytheon Co (RTN.N) to separate from the third stage of the rocket, which is built by Orbital Sciences Corp ORB.N. Boeing is the prime contractor and integrator for the overall system.
Muilenburg declined to give details about the likely cause of the test failure, but said the Missile Defense Agency and Boeing still learned a lot from the wide range of sensors and systems used in the test, even though the missile interceptor did not hit its target.
"The reason we do these test shots is to push the system to demonstrate the integration capability, and to take on new and more difficult targets and challenges," Muilenburg said.
He called for further, increased testing of the system. "We see a need to continue to test that program ... on a regular basis. That's what will drive the reliability of the system."
Muilenburg bristled at comments from missile defense experts who say the Boeing system has been plagued with quality issues, noting that it was the only system defending the United States against a missile attack.
But he said Boeing would invest in a targeted way to improve the reliability and quality of the system.
Once the Pentagon completed its review, Boeing would work with the government to address quality and reliability issues, Muilenburg said.
"We'll get to the bottom of what happened and we'll continue to invest in the system in a way that makes it reliable for the country," he said.
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(Editing by Stephen Coates)