US kill vehicle terminated
The US DoD is terminating development of an improved kill vehicle for its existing long-range interceptor missile, citing ‘technical design problems,’ and will instead launch a competition for a new ‘next-generation’ interceptor that will include a new kill vehicle.
The Raytheon-built Redesigned Kill Vehicle (RKV) was supposed to be more capable and reliable than the existing Exo-atmospheric Kill Vehicle (EKV, pictured), also made by Raytheon. But in December 2018, the US Missile Defense Agency (MDA) postponed the RKV’s critical design review because key components failed to meet technical requirements.
‘Ending the programme was the responsible thing to do,’ DoD research chief Michael Griffin said in a statement on 21 August. ‘Development programmes 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.’
After further review of the programme, Griffin told MDA in May 2019 to stop work on the RKV and conduct a formal study of options. In mid-August, Griffin concluded that the RKV could not be saved.
‘The department ultimately determined the technical design problems were so significant as to be either insurmountable or cost-prohibitive to correct,’ said air force Lt Col Robert Carver, a DoD spokesman. ‘We will take lessons learned from the terminated programme and apply them during the new competition.’
The RKV was supposed to ride atop the 20 new Ground Based Interceptors (GBIs) that MDA planned to place at Fort Greely in Alaska to boost defences against North Korean ballistic missiles. Fort Greely and Vandenberg AFB in California already have a total of 44 operational GBIs.
The deployment of the new GBIs had already been delayed two years, to 2025, due to the RKV’s woes. Fort Greely will now receive 20 next-generation interceptors instead, but it is unclear when.
Boeing, the prime contractor for the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system, whose centerpiece is currently the GBI, and Raytheon both issued statements backing DoD’s new approach.
Despite the RKV’s troubles, Griffin expressed ‘a great deal of confidence in the technical capabilities’ of GMD. Recent intercept tests with the EKV were ‘extraordinarily successful,’ he said at the Washington-based Hudson Institute on 13 August.
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