WASHINGTON — Amid repeated delays in missile defense rocket testing, Lockheed Martin acknowledged today that technical issues have slowed the development of its version of a booster rocket for the U.S. Ground-based Midcourse Defense program (see GSN, Oct. 8).
The Bush administration has set an October 2004 deadline for deploying 10 initial GMD interceptors in Alaska and California. After experiencing problems with an existing booster rocket for those interceptors, the Missile Defense Agency is conducting a replacement competition between Lockheed Martin and Orbital Sciences ― a process that has been plagued by repeated delays, on the Lockheed Martin side in particular.
“The design engineering and hardware transition from Boeing to Lockheed Martin took longer than either of us would have liked,” Lockheed Martin spokeswoman Lori Reichert said today. Lockheed Martin’s GMD booster candidate is the extension of a previous Boeing project.
“That said,” Reichert added, “our focus throughout this process has been on making sure that we will deliver a booster that will work successfully, and given the importance of this program to our nation, the emphasis on mission success is critical.”
Center for Defense Information senior adviser Philip Coyle endorsed Lockheed Martin’s emphasis on “mission success.”
“It’s the most important thing, which is why I don’t think the latest delay of a month or so is all that significant in the scheme of things,” said Coyle.
The selection process involves several stages of flight tests of each rocket, but less than a year from the system deployment deadline, only one flight test of either booster has been conducted — Orbital successfully tested its booster Aug. 16 (see GSN, Aug. 18). To ease some of the deadline pressure, the Pentagon does not plan to select the final booster next year, but will instead deploy both versions.
The first Lockheed Martin test was once slated to take place before Orbital’s August test, but has now been pushed back until later this month at the earliest, with some sources indicating it could take place as late as the middle of next month. An Orbital source said this week that the second Orbital test has been postponed from next month to December.
MDA spokesman Chris Taylor said yesterday that he had no information indicating the Lockheed Martin test would not be conducted this month, but he acknowledged that scheduling changes could take place without his knowledge.
“As of my knowledge, the planning is still on track. … The last plan, I had it [the first Lockheed Martin test] still on the schedule for later this month. … I don’t know what could happen between now and then,” Taylor said.
Matt Martin, the assistant director of the Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation’s Missile Defense Project, said the delays raise questions about whether MDA can succeed in obtaining and deploying 10 interceptors over the next year.
MDA “dismissed” the booster problem as minor when it arose last year, Martin said, “and now here we are, and … Lockheed still apparently can’t come up with a booster, and this is supposed to be the easy part.”