UPDATE: This story has been updated to include a statement from Raytheon.
WASHINGTON — The Pentagon has moved from taking a “strategic pause” on the Redesigned Kill Vehicle program to outright killing it.
The Department of Defense decided to terminate the current Boeing contract to develop the RKV — effective Aug. 22 — “due to technical design problems,” according to an Aug. 21 statement by the department.
Raytheon is the actual developer of the RKV and serves as a sub-contractor to Boeing.
The RKV would have replaced the current Exoatmospheric Kill Vehicle (EKV) on the Ground-Based Interceptor, which makes up the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system designed to protect the homeland from ballistic missile threats. It would have also been fielded on all future ground-based interceptors — a total of 64 ultimately.
The EKV is designed to destroy targets in high-speed collisions after separating from the booster rocket.
The EKV required technical changes in the past several years due to issues in tests. The Missile Defense Agency decided to initiate a program to redesign the kill vehicle. In the meantime, MDA has had several successful tests of the GMD system with the EKV following engineering changes.
Now that the RKV is dead in the water, the Pentagon plans to move forward with a new, next-generation interceptor competition, the statement said.
According to a defense official, no more ground-based interceptors will be built, and all future interceptors that are fielded as part of the GMD system will be the new interceptors.
“Ending the program was the responsible thing to do,” Mike Griffin, undersecretary of defense for research and engineering, said in the statement. “Development programs sometimes encounter problems. After exercising due diligence, we decided the path we’re going down wouldn’t be fruitful, so we’re not going down that path anymore. This decision supports our efforts to gain full value from every future taxpayer dollar spent on defense.”
With the blessing of the undersecretary of defense, Griffin made the decision on Aug. 14 to terminate the program, one week after he told reporters at the Space and Missile Defense Symposium in Huntsville, Alabama, to expect a decision on the way forward for RKV soon.
MDA and Boeing in December 2018 deferred a critical design review of the RKV “due to the failure of certain critical components to meet technical requirements as specified in the development contract,” the statement noted.
After MDA assessed the issues, it issued a stop work order on the contract in May to analyze alternative options.
“The department ultimately determined the technical design problems were so significant as to be either insurmountable or cost-prohibitive to correct,” the statement said.
The DoD plans to take data garnered from research and testing of the RKV prior to its cancellation to inform the next-generation interceptor program, “which will include a new kill vehicle,” according to the statement.
“The U.S. Missile Defense Agency is updating its requirements in the face of an increasingly complex threat environment," Raytheon said in a statement. The company “supports their decision to cease work on the Redesigned Kill Vehicle (RKV) and initiate a competition for the next-generation interceptor to meet these advanced threats. Raytheon will continue to develop and offer a wide range of advanced missile defense technologies available to protect the United States now and in the future.”
There are 44 ground-based interceptorss in place at Fort Greely, Alaska, and Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, with plans to add 22 additional missile silos at Fort Greely to support 20 more ground-based interceptors.
The defense official said the Pentagon is still working through the details of a new, next-generation interceptor competition, including when it will be initiated and the pace at which the technology will be developed and fielded.
Jen Judson is an award-winning journalist covering land warfare for Defense News. She has also worked for Politico and Inside Defense. She holds a Master of Science degree in journalism from Boston University and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Kenyon College.