Northrop, Boeing Chosen to Develop U.S. Missile Defense System

Defense firms Boeing and Northrop Grumman have been selected to continue work developing the United States' long-range missile defense shield, according to a Dec. 30 press release from Boeing (see GSNOct. 19, 2011).

The Ground-based Midcourse Defense system encompasses interceptors in Alaska and California, radars and other technology. The system is intended to primarily shield the continental United States from a long-range ballistic missile strike from nations such as Iran or North Korea.

Boeing was renamed the head contractor for the antimissile system. The company oversees "GMD development, integration, testing, operations and sustainment activities," according to the release. Northrop Grumman is to handle the land-based components of the GMD system and supply critical help in other sectors (Boeing release, Dec. 30, 2011).

The total value of the seven-year deal is $3.48 billion, according to Agence France-Presse (Agence France-Presse/Google News, Dec. 31, 2011).

Under the new contract, the companies would have to bear the cost of any defective components -- a break from former policy. Deficient parts have been blamed in the past for missed schedules and unsuccessful trials of the antimissile web, Bloomberg reported (see GSN, Oct. 18, 2011).

The Missile Defense Agency notified the Senate Armed Services Committee of the new contract clause -- the first of its kind. Previously, the U.S. government had borne the cost of project delays and test failures.

Under the "Contractor Accountability for Quality" provision, the Pentagon branch is empowered to curb or zero out performance payments "when our prime and subcontractors fail to follow their own best practices, internal processes or accepted industry standards that result in quality problems," the agency wrote to the Senate committee.

The new clause would cover all components of the GMD system -- radars, other monitors and interceptors. The clause is not intended to punish defense firms for all system problems. When developing next-generation systems, "we should expect failures from time to time," the Missile Defense Agency said.

U.S. Government Accountability Office Associate Director Christina Chaplain said the agency "has been taking a stronger stand with provisions like this and with increased attention to quality."

"Until the space and missile defense sector gets a better handle on quality, provisions like this are probably the best tool around to incentivize and hold contractors accountable," Chaplain stated by e-mail.

Faulty components have been found in the vast majority of the U.S. military's missile defense and space programs and have led to millions of dollars in price increases and substantial timeline overruns, the GAO official said.

The Missile Defense Agency has burdened with troubles that "have led to botched tests, which take many months to plan and are very expensive. Often the quality problems we see are the result of contractors not following basic procedures or polices," she said.

A $100 million January 2010 missile interceptor trial ended unsuccessfully when a Raytheon-supplied warhead thruster misfired due to an absent "lockwire."

A $41 million missile interceptor trial in December 2009 ended in failure because a target supplied by a defense contractor had a connector that was not properly coordinated. In addition, a $100 million antimissile trial in 2008 was delayed for no less than eight months due to a defective part provided by the same firm, L-3 Communications Holdings, Bloomberg reported (Tony Capaccio, Bloomberg, Dec. 29, 2011).


January 3, 2012

Defense firms Boeing and Northrop Grumman have been selected to continue work developing the United States' long-range missile defense shield, according to a Dec. 30 press release from Boeing.