Boeing’s $1-billion ‘kill vehicle’ contract for missile defense is killed

Interceptor test
A ground-based interceptor missile is launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in a May 30, 2017, test.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

The Pentagon canceled a Boeing Co. contract for a “kill vehicle” envisioned to shoot down missiles from North Korea or Iran, the latest setback for a next-generation system that has struggled to prove its effectiveness.

The termination of the Redesigned Kill Vehicle comes as the maker of the interceptor’s warhead, Raytheon Co., continued to struggle with design and manufacturing problems that increased costs, the Missile Defense Agency said in a statement Wednesday. Boeing had received a $1-billion contract in May 2017 for the project.

“Ending the program was the responsible thing to do,” Michael Griffin, the under secretary of defense for research and engineering, said in the statement. “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.”

The Defense Department plans to start a competition for a new contract to design a next-generation interceptor for its Ground-based Midcourse Defense program, according to the statement.

After the nation’s homeland missile defense system successfully intercepted a mock enemy warhead high above the Pacific on May 30, the then-director of the U.S.

July 7, 2017


The interceptor had been billed as a major improvement for a $180-billion network of ground- and sea-based missile interceptors, sensors and communications links intended to defend the U.S. from a limited North Korean or Iranian attack by dispatching a missile to crash into and destroy it.

Although the Defense Department has claimed progress in missile defense tests against a dummy target, arms control experts have repeatedly said the Pentagon has conducted only tightly controlled tests in which the target warhead can easily be picked out from decoys.

Boeing said in a statement that it accepts the Missile Defense Agency’s decision “and supports the competition for a new, next-generation interceptor.” The Chicago aerospace company said “we will continue to support the requirements that our customer sets forth for effective missile defense, just as we have for more than two decades.”

Raytheon said in a statement that the Missile Defense Agency “is updating its requirements in the face of an increasingly complex threat environment” and that the Waltham, Mass., contractor supports the decision to “initiate a competition for the next-generation interceptor to meet these advanced threats. ”

The Pentagon is pushing ahead with an expansion of the nation’s homeland missile defense system, despite a newly recognized deficiency that affects nearly all the system’s rocket interceptors, a Los Angeles Times investigation has found.

Feb. 26, 2017

The termination is effective Aug. 22, according to Mark Wright, director of public affairs at the Missile Defense Agency.

Griffin decided to cancel the program Aug. 14 and had backing from Deputy Defense Secretary David Norquist, Wright said. The move marks one of the first major contracting decisions since Defense Secretary Mark Esper took office last month. Esper is a former top lobbyist for Raytheon who has promised to recuse himself from most decisions involving the company.