WASHINGTON — The delayed request for proposals to industry for the Missile Defense Agency’s Next-Generation Interceptor has been anticipated for several months but, according to the agency’s director, its release is “imminent.”
Vice Adm. Jon Hill laid out a complicated road in getting the NGI competition off the ground after canceling the Redesigned Kill Vehicle effort in August 2019. RKV would have upgraded the U.S. homeland defense system’s interceptors designed to go after ballistic missile defense threats.
The Pentagon decided that no more ground-based interceptors for the Ground-based Midcourse Defense System (GMD) would be built and all future interceptors that are fielded as part of the GMD system will be the new interceptor.
The NGI acquisition plan, the request for proposal drafting and the creation of requirements have all been running parallel, Hill told reporters at the McAleese Defense Programs Conference on March 3.
The most important one is requirements, so we have to get that right,” he said.
In order to do that, Hill said, the agency went through the Joint Requirements Oversight Council rather than an Operational Forces Standing Committee, which is combatant command focused.
The JROC process led to the realization that “our requirements were almost so technical there was no way a war fighter would ever be able to understand them and say, ‘Yes, go for it,’” Hill said.
The agency decided to focus on what is needed from an operational perspective as laid out by U.S. Northern Command, and Hill said the COCOM’s number one need is to have an interceptor as soon as possible.
“I’m glad that came out in the discussions too,” Hill said. “We want to deliver the first round as soon as possible. That also means we can’t take shortcuts in the design or in the requirements or in the flight testing regime, because if you want to go save time that is what most programs will do, so we can’t afford that, but I will tell you that timeline will be driven by who we award to later.”
That means getting industry at the table and committed to determine a feasible schedule, he said.
The MDA has done its final reviews with the under secretary of defense for research and engineering and is “adjudicating the last few comments” ahead of approving an acquisition plan, Hill said.
Another JROC review will happen “within the next week,” he added.
Even though the RFP has been delayed, Hill said a possible NGI fielding timeline of 2030, which has been projected, is “unacceptable from a war fighter view” and “unacceptable to me as a program manager.”
Hill said once bids are on the table, the agency will be able to take a harder look at schedule and once an award has been made, it will hold industry accountable to meet “all the wickets.” If that happens, the schedule can be pulled to the left.
The Pentagon’s chief weapons tester, according to Hill, has endorsed a flight test program. “We have to fly an intercept before we go to production so that is the plan and we are going to go do that. You can take some risk and decide not to do that but that’s what we did all those years ago, you end up with too much risk in the program.”
The MDA was experiencing repeated test failures with its GBIs while simultaneously burying them in the ground in silos at Fort Greely, Alaska, and Vanderberg Air Force Base, California. The problems with the GBIs in tests led to the agency’s desire to redesign the kill vehicle portion of the interceptor, which required upgrading GBIs already emplaced in silos.
Hill said it appears the goal for flight tests of the new interceptor will be held in the 2025 to 2026 time frame.
“The RFP is not out as early as I would want it to be,” Hill said. “It kind of eats our time and moves us to the right, but that is okay. It’s important to get the requirements right, get the RFO right and get the acquisition plan agreed to.”
Jen Judson is the land warfare reporter for Defense News. She has covered defense in the Washington area for 10 years. She was previously a reporter at Politico and Inside Defense. She won the National Press Club's best analytical reporting award in 2014 and was named the Defense Media Awards' best young defense journalist in 2018.