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Production of U.S. Interceptor 'Kill Vehicle' to Resume by Month's End

A Ground Based Interceptor armed with a Raytheon-manufactured kill vehicle takes off from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., last month in a high-profile intercept test. The Pentagon last week said the successful test validated fixes to the kill vehicle, and that production of it would soon resume. A Ground Based Interceptor armed with a Raytheon-manufactured kill vehicle takes off from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., last month in a high-profile intercept test. The Pentagon last week said the successful test validated fixes to the kill vehicle, and that production of it would soon resume. (U.S. Missile Defense Agency photo)

Production of a key component of the United States' principal homeland antimissile system is set to resume by month's end, Bloomberg reports.

Adm. James Winnefeld, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the news service that last month's successful test of the Ground-based Midcourse Defense system confirmed the "extensive and, I would say, exquisite engineering work" on the interceptor's second-generation kill vehicle.

Winnefeld said the so-called "CE-2" Exoatmospheric Kill Vehicle "did everything it was supposed to do -- all the little maneuvers. It executed perfectly."

In June, the kill vehicle for the first time successfully intercepted a ballistic missile target. Two prior attempts were unsuccessful. Skeptics of the program argue the performance record is too weak to justify resuming manufacturing -- frozen since 2010 --  of the component, which is planned for placement on 14 new Ground Based Interceptors that the Pentagon wants to deploy in Alaska in 2017.

The Raytheon-manufactured CE-2 vehicle "has hit the target just once out of three tries," Tom Collina, research director for the Arms Control Association, said in an email. "How can the Pentagon have confidence in a system with a 33 percent success rate?"

Winnefeld pushed back against critics that oppose seeing the program expanded, arguing "what they are ignoring is that programs mature," and that "when you have something as technically advanced as trying to hit a BB with a BB you are going to have failures."

Without going into detail, the vice chairman said the June intercept involved a "decent number of countermeasures" that the kill vehicle was able to outsmart in successfully identifying, tracking and striking its intermediate-range target.

The Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency is also readying an "easy fix" to up to 20 older, first-generation Exoatmospheric Kill Vehicles that are already deployed in California and Alaska, Winnefeld said. The modification is intended to forestall a reoccurrence of a battery-related malfunction that caused a July 2013 intercept attempt to fail.

Boeing Co., the principal contractor for the GMD system, is slated to be awarded another contract in less than two months to modernize 10 deployed, newer kill vehicles.

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