McDonnell Douglas Awarded $160-Million ‘Star Wars’ Contract

Times Staff Writer

McDonnell Douglas Corp. has been selected for a key $160-million contract for the Strategic Defense Initiative, beating out competitors Lockheed Corp. and Boeing Co.

The contract calls for McDonnell Douglas Astronautics Co. in Huntington Beach to design and build a ground-based system for detecting and tracking Soviet warheads in space. The system is part of the Reagan Administration’s anti-missile defense program known as “Star Wars.”

Although McDonnell Douglas was notified that it has been chosen over its two competitors, the final contract is subject to completion of negotiations with the Army Strategic Defense Command in Huntsville, Ala., which is managing the program. The formal award is anticipated in several weeks, said Tom Williams, a McDonnell Douglas spokesman in Huntington Beach.

“The program people here are extremely pleased,” Williams said, “and are treating this as a very significant event.”


Still a ‘Strong Player’

The five-year contract could potentially be worth “several hundred million dollars” if the program is extended, McDonnell Douglas said. Earlier Army estimates have pegged the cost of the program at more than $700 million, but budget cuts have caused the program to be scaled back.

“This maintains our position as a real strong player” in the program, Williams said. McDonnell Douglas was selected for the contract over Lockheed Missiles and Space Co. in Sunnyvale, Calif., and Boeing Aerospace in Seattle.

McDonnell Douglas said 24 people currently work on the program. The company said new hiring will be minimal during the first year of the contract.


The missile tracking system is one of six key technologies the Pentagon has identified for early development under the SDI program.

Infrared Sensors

The system would use infrared sensors carried aboard ground-based missiles to search for and track incoming enemy missiles and distinguish between nuclear warheads and decoy objects.

In a separate program, the Astronautics unit in 1986 was awarded a five-year, $332-million contract to build a ground-launched missile system, another key part of the SDI program. The system would destroy enemy warheads by hitting them with non-nuclear projectiles. The program currently employes 180 people at the company’s Huntington Beach facility.


In May, 1987, Astronautics won a $480-million contract to build a particle-beam weapon system, but the Pentagon canceled the program in January because of budget cuts.