* High-stakes test follows series of failures
* System launched in 2004 to counter threats from North
* Critics call for new design, say program flawed
(Adds company statements, paragraphs 8-9, 12-14)
By Andrea Shalal
WASHINGTON, June 22 The U.S. missile defense
system managed by Boeing Co on Sunday hit a simulated
enemy missile over the Pacific in the first successful intercept
test of the program since 2008, the U.S. Defense Department
The intercept will help validate the troubled Boeing-run
Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system which provides the
sole U.S. defense against long-range ballistic missiles, and the
Raytheon Co kill vehicle that separates from the rocket
and hits an incoming warhead.
"This is a very important step in our continuing efforts to
improve and increase the reliability of our homeland ballistic
missile defense system," said Missile Defense Agency
(MDA)Director Vice Admiral James Syring.
He said the agency would continue its ongoing drive to
ensure that the ground-based interceptors and overall homeland
defense system were effective and dependable.
Reuters reported on Friday that the Pentagon is
restructuring its $3.48 billion contract with Boeing for
management of the missile defense system to put more emphasis on
maintenance and reliability.
Sunday's high-stakes test came after the system had failed
to hit a dummy missile in five of eight previous tests since the
Bush administration rushed to deploy the system in 2004 to
counter growing threats by North Korea.
Earlier this month, Syring said that another test failure
would have forced the Pentagon to reassess its plans to add 14
more interceptors to the 30 already in silos in the ground in
Alaska and California.
During the test, a ground-based interceptor launched from
Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, hit a target built by
Lockheed Martin Corp that was launched from the U.S.
Army's Reagan Test Site on Kwajalein Atoll in the Republic of
the Marshall Islands, according to the Pentagon and Lockheed.
Lockheed said the unarmed 45-foot (14-meter) target was
configured to closely mirror the capabilities of ground-launched
missiles that can travel 3,000 km to 5,000 km (1,800 to 3,400
All components involved in the test appeared to have
performed as designed, the Pentagon said. Program officials will
spend the next several months assessing the performance of the
system using telemetry and other data obtained during the test.
The test marked the first successful intercept by Raytheon's
Exoatmospheric Kill Vehicle Capability Enhancement II, or EKV
CE-II, which failed in both previous tests conducted in 2010.
Jim Chilton, vice president of Boeing Strategic Missile &
Defense Systems, demonstrated the system's performance under "an
expanded set of conditions that reflect real-world operational
requirements." Boeing said the operational complexity of the GMD
system was "a major engineering challenge."
Raytheon underscored the importance of testing and said
Sunday's successful intercept kept the United States on target
to increase its interceptor inventory to 44 from 30 by 2017.
Northrop Grumman Corp integrated data from U.S.
missile warning satellites and sea-based radars to help
identify, track and destroy the target.
Ten of the interceptors now in place carry the kill vehicle
used in Sunday's test. The other 20 carry an earlier kill
vehicle that failed in a July 2013 test. Syring has said a fix
will be implemented for that issue by year's end.
Riki Ellison, founder of the nonprofit Missile Defense
Advocacy Alliance, hailed the successful test as a big step
forward for the troubled program, and said it would allow U.S.
military commanders to reduce the number of interceptors that
would be fired at an incoming ballistic missile.
"This success is a significant milestone ... that
demonstrates the system's reliability and increases the
confidence of the North American Combatant Commander ...
responsible for the defense of the country," he said.
Critics said the Raytheon kill vehicle had still only
succeeded in one of three tries, and urged Congress to rethink
plans to buy 14 more of the flawed interceptors at a cost of $75
million each, or just over $1 billion.
"Would you spend $1 billion on an insurance policy that only
worked one third of the time?" said Tom Collina, research
director at the Arms Control Association. "We need to put the
money into making the system better, not bigger."
Phil Coyle, former Pentagon chief tester and a longtime
critic, called for accelerated work on a new design. "We need to
make sure we have a system that works, not expand a system we
know to be deeply flawed," he said in a statement.
(Editing by Eric Walsh and Mohammad Zargham)