May 13 2009

MDA's decision is misguided, Shelby says

Huntsville Times

By KENNETH KESNER

Senator sees no justification for halt on interceptor

U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby and others in Congress are urging the Missile Defense Agency to rescind a "stop work" order on the Huntsville-managed Kinetic Energy Interceptor program and proceed with a test planned later this year.

"Terminating the only practical boost-phase missile defense capability our nation has in development is misguided," Shelby said Wednesday in a letter to MDA Director Lt. Gen. Patrick O'Reilly.

"Stopping work on the program now is irresponsible."

Shelby, R-Tuscaloosa, said there was no justification provided before the stop-work order was issued Monday, and "this decision appears solely based on a recommended budget reduction for the next fiscal year - a proposal announced a mere five days ago. Simply calling for the termination of a program does not mean Congress will rubber stamp that decision."

The 2010 budget proposed by President Barack Obama earlier this month cuts about $1.2 billion from MDA programs.

In April, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said some unproven programs still in development could face cuts or be terminated. KEI has undergone several tests over the past year.

MDA spokesman Rick Lehner said Wednesday that the agency would make any response directly to Shelby rather than address the issues in the media, just as they would to a letter from any member of Congress.

U.S. Rep. Robert Aderholt, R-Haleyville, also sent O'Reilly a letter expressing his concern "about this abrupt cancellation."

Funding for KEI began in 2004, Shelby said, and the Department of Defense has invested more than $1 billion. He said there's about $135 million in 2009 funding remaining for the KEI program, a missile is already assembled and ready on the pad for a September launch, and "it is misguided to prevent the test from being conducted."

"Regardless of the perceived future of this program, the Department of Defense should leverage the investment in this technology, complete the upcoming flight test, and gain the significant technical knowledge it will provide to benefit future missile development initiatives," Shelby wrote.

Northrop Grumman is prime contractor for the KEI program. It uses a mobile launcher for a high-acceleration missile and "hit-to-kill" technology to bring down enemy missiles in their boost and midcourse phases, shortly after launch.

The initial development is for a land-based program, then a sea-based version as part of the "layered" ballistic missile defense program to protect the U.S. and allies.

"The Missile Defense Agency and industry team together have successfully completed nearly all KEI program tests needed to reach the booster flight milestone scheduled for later this year," Northrop spokesman Bob Bishop said. "Naturally Northrop Grumman is disappointed that the administration has chosen not to fund the KEI missile defense program that offers the strategic flexibility we believe is absolutely essential to deal with constantly evolving ballistic missile threats.

"The Department of Defense's annual budget process is a complex and dynamic one, and in the proposed FY 2010 budget the administration has generated many policy issues for Congress and American taxpayers to consider," Bishop said. "We will await the completion of the FY 2010 budget process."

Northop's KEI program office is in Huntsville, where other companies working on the program include Davidson Technologies, Schafer and 3D Research. Bishop said about 120 jobs in Huntsville are tied to KEI. Other subcontractors across the country include Raytheon, Aerojet, ATK, SAIC and Rockwell Collins.

Times Aerospace Writer Shelby Spires contributed to this report.