Raytheon's Improved Missile-Defense Warhead Delayed Two Years

(Bloomberg) -- Raytheon Co.’s redesigned missile-interceptor warhead -- an improvement on a system intended to defend against a potential North Korean attack -- will be delayed for two years because of technical difficulties, according to the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency.

The new version of the interceptor would be used in the $34 billion system that’s intended to detect an incoming intercontinental ballistic missile from an adversary such as North Korea or Iran, dispatching a missile to crash into it and destroy it.

“While the overall design is mature and robust,” the agency “does not want” to schedule a major review of the program until it meets “all of the requirements,” the Missile Defense Agency said in budget documents released Tuesday. The agency is requesting $412.4 million in the next fiscal year for continued research.

The flaws that are delaying the testing and expected deployment weren’t disclosed.

““We’re reassessing the whole program,” Rear Admiral Jon Hill, the Missile Defense Agency’s deputy director, said Tuesday at the Pentagon. “We did not believe, as a government team, we were ready” to review the system for production so “we determined that the best thing to do is go back and reassess that design and take the time to do it right.”

The “Redesigned Kill Vehicle” is intended to greatly improve the reliability of the current warhead. The warheads deployed when the system was declared operational in late 2004 were found to have occasional reliability problems that led to failures in intercepting mock targets in tests.

Alluding to that history, Hill told reporters “we could do what some programs do -- and what the Missile Defense Agency did some years ago: go ahead and produce what we’ve got and then deal with reliability issues in the fleet and erode the confidence of the warfighter. We know that is the wrong step.”

With the delay, the new version won’t have its first flight test until fiscal 2022 or attempt its first test interception until fiscal 2023. The agency anticipates placing interceptors tipped with the warheads into silos starting in fiscal 2025 to expand the current field of 44 based in California and Alaska.

Raytheon didn’t respond to a request for comment.

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