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FARNBOROUGH, England (Reuters) - U.S. arms maker Raytheon Co (RTN.N) said on Monday it had won a $636 million contract to continue work on the key interceptor for the U.S. ground-based missile defense system, despite several intercept failures in recent years.
The contract was awarded by Boeing Co (BA.N), the prime contractor on the missile-defense program, and runs through 2018. It covers development, fielding, testing, and operation of the Exoatmospheric Kill Vehicle (EKV), which is designed to engage high-speed ballistic missile warheads in space.
Raytheon did not say how many of the warheads were included in the contract.
The U.S. Missile Defense Agency last year halted deliveries of the advanced warhead after two failed missile defense tests in 2010. A subsequent investigation said the problem stemmed from a design flaw on the warhead's advanced guidance system that could only be detected in outer space.
Raytheon said it had demonstrated a remedy for the problem in ground testing and was now working to ensure the solution was "repeatable and producible." There have been eight successful intercepts since the overall program began.
Rick Lehner, spokesman for the Missile Defense Agency, said flight tests due to begin this fall and winter and continue into the spring would confirm the readiness to resume EKV production.
Earlier versions of the warhead, without the design flaw, are deployed on ground-based interceptors housed in silos at Fort Greely, Alaska and Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.
Raytheon Chief Executive William Swanson welcomed the contract award, which was announced at the Farnborough Airshow, saying it underscored the company's leadership in developing cutting-edge technologies.
"What I love about Raytheon is that we do things that are really hard," Swanson told Reuters in an interview, describing the EKV as a system that "hits bullets with bullets."
The Raytheon warhead is designed to destroy incoming ballistic missile threats by colliding with them, a concept sometimes described as "hit to kill."
EKV has an advanced multi-color sensor that is used to detect and discriminate incoming warheads from other objects. It has its own propulsion, communications link, guidance and control system.
Reporting by Andrea Shalal-Esa; Editing by Rhys Jones and Mark Potter