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Thu, Dec 04, 2003

Star Wars Lives: Missile Defense Boost-Phase Contract Awarded

KEI -- This'll Punch Your Lights Out...

The Department of Defense has announced that the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) has awarded a contract to Northrop Grumman Space and Mission Systems Corp. for the development and testing of a concept for the Kinetic Energy Interceptor (KEI) program designed to intercept and destroy a ballistic missile in its boost/early ascent phase, which is the period of flight lasting from three to five minutes after a ballistic missile is launched. The contract awarded today is approximately $4.5 billion over the next eight years. This is the MDA's first capability-based development and test contract, and it features a design that is no longer constrained by the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, from which the United States formally withdrew in June 2002.

This award follows an eight-month concept definition effort by two teams led by Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin. Each of the teams received $10 million to design a KEI concept. The objective of the contract award announced today is to develop and test a land-based interceptor for use in a "layered" ballistic missile defense system, possibly in 2010-2012. While the initial interceptor would be land-based, the KEI concept will quickly evolve to sea-basing for better proximity to some threat areas. There are significant technical and operational challenges to be solved in successfully developing a boost phase intercept capability. This contract is structured to handle all of them. A single interceptor design is compatible with both land and sea-basing.

The intercept of a missile in its boost phase has numerous benefits:

  • The boosting missile, still under power from its rocket motor(s), is vulnerable due to its slower speed, large cross-section and still-attached fuel tanks.
  • Also, if a missile is successfully attacked during the boost phase, it can be destroyed prior to release of any decoys and/or countermeasures.
  • Finally, in the event of a successful intercept, the missile and its payload of weapons of mass destruction nuclear, chemical or biological may fall back on the country from which it was launched.

The KEI program complements other missile defense programs now in development and testing, and is an important element in the United States' approach to a layered missile defense system. This means that the objective is to develop and deploy missile defenses that can successfully intercept and destroy ballistic missiles in the boost phase, the midcourse phase (unpowered flight of a warhead high in space lasting up to 20 minutes), and the terminal phase, which is the final 30 seconds or less when the warhead is falling back to earth towards its target, powered only by gravity.

The United States is developing, testing and preparing the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) to defend the United States against long-range ballistic missile attack beginning in 2004. Beginning in 2005, the Aegis Ballistic Missile (Sea-based Midcourse) Defense is planned to begin defensive operations for use against short to medium range ballistic missiles. The Army currently operates the Patriot Advanced Capability-3 element, which is a highly effective system for terminal phase intercept against short-range ballistic missiles and cruise missiles.



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