US cancels multi-billion $ Boeing missile defense program

The Pentagon is canceling a multi-billion dollar contract with Boeing for a new ballistic missile interceptor, putting a stop to an effort that had been riddled with problems and drawn the ire of defense officials.

The decision by Michael Griffin, undersecretary for research and engineering, to cancel the Redesigned Kill Vehicle program after years of effort takes effect Thursday, and comes after Griffin slapped a stop work order on the program in May.

“Ending the program was the responsible thing to do,” Griffin said in a statement. “Development programs sometimes encounter problems. After exercising due diligence, we decided the path we’re going down wouldn’t be fruitful, so we’re not going down that path anymore. This decision supports our efforts to gain full value from every future taxpayer dollar spent on defense.”

The RKV was an ambitious, $5.8 billion technology program led by Boeing — though Raytheon actually builds the Kill Vehicles — to improve on the current Exo-Atmospheric Kill Vehicle, or EKV. Both are ground-based interceptors designed to defend the US mainland against long-range ballistic missile attacks.

It is unclear what the next steps in replacing the EKV will be, but defense officials say they don’t expect the problems to delay the planned expansion of the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system from 44 to 64 interceptors based in California and Alaska in the coming years.

Whatever comes next, Boeing and Raytheon will likely be involved due to their long history in missile defense. In an interview last month, Mitch Stevison, vice president of Raytheon’s Strategic and Naval Systems segment told me the company “looks at the kill vehicle business as critical, we are the one company that has a factory specialized to make kill vehicles.”

Missile Defense Agency spokesman Mark Wright said in a statement that the decision to move on from the program “underscores the importance of DOD’s research, development, test and evaluation process that allows for the identification of problems in a test setting before they are deployed to the field. We will take lessons learned from the terminated program and apply them during the new competition.”

The issues have mounted for the program over the years. The Missile Defense Agency said back in 2016 when it kicked off the RKV program that it expected the first flight test in 2019, with fielding in 2020. The latest estimate, released earlier this year with the fiscal year 2020 budget request, pushed the fielding date back to 2025.

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The current EKV has seen its share of problems, as well. Since 1999, it has logged 11 successful tests out of 19 tries. The MDA’s Wright said the Pentagon “will initiate competition for a new, next-generation interceptor,” right away.