Raytheon Failure Sets Back U.S. Missile Defense

Written by S.C. Sherman on July 10, 2020

Sometimes a mistake by a contractor can inflict pain on the taxpayer while slowing a national security priority. A failure by Raytheon of one element of the U.S. missile defense program caused the manufacture of an updated critical part of our nation’s missile defense to be delayed.

The botched manufacture of the interceptor warhead portion of the program deployed to protect American citizens from nuclear intercontinental missile attack caused a slowdown of the program that will end up sticking the taxpayer with a big bill.

Our nation has deployed a defensive missile defense capability that was brought to public discourse when President Ronald Reagan announced funding for a system to shoot down missiles incoming to the United States. The missile defense technology ranges from regional defenses for troops and allies to the one that protects the homeland. For American citizens, the most important element of our national defense to protect from nuclear missiles being fired at U.S. population centers is a ground-based system that fires a projectile to intercept the missile while still in space. It works and it is being improved year by year.

The Ground-based Midcourse System (GMD) is the part of the ballistic missile defenses of The United States that serves this purpose. According to Missile Defense Advocacy, the GMD “provides the capability to engage and destroy limited intermediate- and long-range ballistic missile threats in space to protect the United States homeland. GMD employs integrated communications networks, fire control systems, globally deployed sensors, and Ground-based Interceptors (GBIs) that are capable of detecting, tracking and destroying ballistic missile threats.” There is a projectile called the Exo-atmospheric Kill Vehicle (EKV) that uses kinetic energy from a direct hit on a missile to stop it guided by sensors. Raytheon was designated the lead in developing the interceptor warhead portion of the newly designed EKV called the Redesigned Kill Vehicle (RKV). The Pentagon cancelled the whole RKV program because of problems created by Raytheon, according to government reports.

Raytheon is a defense contractor that calls themselves a “defense powerhouse” and they have done a great job in manufacturing the tools of our national defense overall. In this specific case, they failed the taxpayer because they ended up producing a interceptor warhead portion of the replacement kill vehicle that did not work up to specifications. The Government Accounting Office (GAO) put out a detailed report in May of 2017 titled “Missile Defense – Some Progress Delivering Capabilities, but Challenges with Testing Transparency and Requirements Development Need to Be Addressed” that concluded that the Pentagon had some concerns with Raytheon’s RKV component because of testing failures and the likelihood that it would not work.

The way the GMD works is that first a satellite detects a missile launch. The satellite communicates that a threat has been launched, then a kill vehicle is launched to intercept the missile. When the incoming missile is in space, it is struck by the kill vehicle and destroyed far from American citizens. The system is working fine, but updates to existing technology are
needed to keep the technology one step ahead of our adversaries attempts to thwart missile defenses. If an interceptor warhead is not built in a way makes the system better, the government should scrap the update to protect taxpayers.

The Hill reported on August 21, 2019, that “the Pentagon has canceled a $1 billion-dollar contract with Boeing to create a next-generation weapon meant to destroy incoming missiles after technical problems derailed the project.” Boeing was part of the contract, but, as the GAO report points out, it was Raytheon who bungled the manufacture of the interceptor warhead. The Pentagon shut down the contract and is considering a new attempt at producing an updated kill vehicle.

The future of missile defense is to protect against rogue states, like North Korea and Iran. For that mission there is a need for more RKVs in the ground in Alaska and California, with a device that works. Relying on a company that already botched a contract would make no sense. If Raytheon made a mistake in the last effort for a new RKV, it would be contracting malpractice to use them again.

How does the old saying go? “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.” Or to be more accurate, shame on the taxpayer. The government, and my extension taxpayers, ended up getting the short end of the stick on this project and the government should not repeat history by trying the same thing that did not work again.

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S.C. Sherman
S.C. Sherman grew up a farm kid in rural Iowa. He graduated from the University of Iowa with a degree in Communications Studies. Steve is a business owner, and recently ran for Iowa State House of Representatives.. S.C. enjoys political commentary and great stories. He has written three fiction novels found at scsherman.com. He currently lives with his wife and four children in North Liberty, Iowa.