Mock ballistic missiles have performed incorrectly in a significant number of U.S. intercept trials since 2002, resulting in delays and additional expenses for the country's antimissile preparations, the Center for Public Integrity reported on Thursday.
The Defense Department said two of the three latest Ground-based Midcourse Defense system exercises had encountered difficulties involving objects intended to be shot down in trials. Similar errors reportedly occurred in two of the seven most recent drills with the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense system.
Such complications arose in 16 percent of the mock missiles launched in 2006 and 2007, up from a 7 percent error occurrence over the four prior years, the Government Accountability Office determined in 2008. Congressional auditors blamed the issues in part on faulty management of a 2003 arrangement for Lockheed Martin Space Systems to build targets intended to fly for low, medium and intermediate distances; delivery delays forced the Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency to rely on aging launch vehicles for longer than planned.
These technical issues have spiked the price tag for such trials -- the annual cost for testing and target missile acquisition is about $1 billion -- and has slowed the schedule for some key trials by one year if not longer.
Attempts to inject more competition into the production process did not fully address the problems, said Cristina Chaplain, GAO head of acquisition and sourcing management. Congressional investigators “would still like to see more competition in the procurements to maximize the potential for savings,” she told the Center for Public Integrity.