At Raytheon Missile Systems' sprawling campus at Tucson International Airport, scientists and engineers are doing things no one else can do, to do something many say can't be done.
Raytheon's Tucson-based missile division is a major player in building the nation's nascent missile-defense system, as the developer and maker of the Standard Missile-3 series of sea-based interceptors, as well as a kinetic warhead for a system of ground-based interceptors.
And despite some recent setbacks, Raytheon is forging ahead with both programs, under the Obama administration's four-phase, 20-year plan to build a flexible missile shield to protect the U.S. and Europe.
It's a mission that calls on some expertise found nowhere else, said Ed Miyashiro, vice president and deputy general manager of Missile Systems.
"I always say, 'We're not making toaster ovens' - these are very specialized interceptors that do a very unique mission that no one else in the world is really doing," Miyashiro said in a recent interview.
"What is behind the scenes here are literally thousands of people and hundreds of millions of dollars in infrastructure," he said.
Raytheon has been the sole supplier of missiles for the sea-based Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense system since it began adapting a version of its Standard Missile-2 ship-defense system to ballistic-missile defense more than a decade ago. Last year, the company booked $743 million in SM-3 sales.
Now the company is developing new versions of the current SM-3 with extended ranges and capabilities, including a land-based variant and a larger, faster version to destroy longer-range enemy missiles earlier in flight.
Countering regional threats
The current SM-3 Block IA was recently deployed on a ship in the Mediterranean Sea as fulfillment of the first phase of the Phased Adaptive Approach to missile defense, a system to counter regional threats.
Another version, the SM-3 Block IB, will feature an improved kinetic kill vehicle - a nonexplosive warhead that destroys a target by sheer impact - by 2012 and will be adapted to a ground-based system by 2015.
The company also is working with Japan to develop the larger, longer-range SM-3 Block IIA for fielding by 2018.
For the fourth phase of the program, the SM-3 Block IIB, Raytheon must compete with two longtime rivals and sometime partners, Boeing Co. and Lockheed Martin Corp.
In April, each of the three companies was awarded a concept-development contract worth about $40 million for the next-generation Block IIB, slated for deployment by 2020 to counter intercontinental ballistic missiles. The U.S. Missile Defense Agency is expected to pick a single contractor by 2013.
With each step, the SM-3 versions are being designed to hit longer-range missiles, as early in their flights as possible to avoid countermeasures such as decoys and the release of hard-to-track multiple warheads carried by some of the larger and more sophisticated ballistic missiles.
Including a key test in April that validated the system for deployment, the SM-3 Block IA has had 21 intercepts in 25 tries since testing began in 2002, according to the Missile Defense Agency.
The April test was key because it used forward-based sensors - including radars and satellite sensors made by other Raytheon divisions - to extend the system's range beyond the firing ship's sight.
Miyashiro said all of Raytheon's SM-3 projects are on track and budget, and he is confident the company will win the next-generation SM-3 competition.
But another Raytheon missile-defense program - a kinetic warhead for the Ground-based Midcourse Defense system - hasn't fared as well.
The Missile Defense Agency has suspended deliveries of Raytheon's Exoatmospheric Kill Vehicle, or EKV, after a second failed intercept test in December.
The December test failure follows a failed intercept in January 2010 that was blamed on the EKV and sensor performance issues.
Miyashiro said he's confident the problems, which involved a new, "capability-enhanced" EKV, can be resolved.
"It's a very complicated system, a very subtle area of what went wrong. … It's one of these phenomenons that you only really see when you're flying it," Miyashiro said, adding that proving a fix will require more flight testing.
The failures have not gone unnoticed in Congress.
In a Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee hearing May 25, Chairman Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, D-Hawaii, expressed concern over the test failures and their cost in no uncertain terms.
"From an operational perspective, this is obvious cause for concern," Inouye said in an opening statement. "From the taxpayer standpoint, these tests cost over $200 million apiece, so we can no longer afford to fail."
In answering the subcommittee's questions, Missile Defense Agency Director Lt. Gen. Patrick O'Reilly said the cause of the first failure was a quality-control issue that has been resolved and proved.
The cause of the second failure has yet to be resolved and requires an additional testing, O'Reilly said, according to an account of the hearing by the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance.
O'Reilly has submitted an $8.6 billion budget for fiscal 2012, an increase of $120 million from the current fiscal year.
Raytheon's Standard Missile-3 is a key component of the Obama administration's Phased Adaptive Approach to missile defense. Here's a look at how different versions of the SM-3 are being developed under the plan:
Phase 1 (by 2011)
Missile: SM-3 Block IA
Goal: Initial capability against short-, medium- and intermediate-range ballistic missiles*
Status: Recent test validated launch using remote sensors and initial capability; about 130 missiles delivered; one Navy cruiser equipped with Block IA missiles has been deployed in the Mediterranean Sea.
Phase 2 (by 2015)
Missile: SM-3 Block IB
Goal: Robust capability against short- and medium-range ballistic missiles
Status: Testing improved kinetic warhead; sea-based deployment by 2012 and one land-based version (Aegis Ashore) by 2015
Phase 3 (by 2018)
Missile: SM-3 Block IIA
Goal: Robust capability against intermediate-range ballistic missiles, additional land-based sites
Status: Cooperative development under way with Japan focusing on improved velocity, range, divert capability and target discrimination
Phase 4 (by 2020)
Missile: SM-3 IIB
Goal: Early-intercept capability against medium- and intermediate-range ballistic missiles; and against intercontinental ballistic missiles from regional threats
Status: In April, Raytheon, Boeing Co. and Lockheed Martin Corp. each was awarded a contract of more than $40 million to develop competing concepts for the SM-3 Block IIB. The Missile Defense Agency is expected to select a single company in 2013 to proceed with full development and flight testing.
*Ballistic missiles are categorized by their maximum effective ranges (distances approximate): Short-range, up to 620 miles; medium-range from 620 to 1,860 miles; intermediate range from 1,860 to 3,400 miles; intercontinental (ICBMs) more than 3,400 miles
Will it work?
Critics of the U.S. missile defense plan say there's little proof the system will work when needed, citing serious shortcomings in testing.
Skeptics including the Union of Concerned Scientists and the Federation of American Scientists say the systems haven't been tested against missiles capable of deploying countermeasures such as decoys, and missiles with multiple independent re-entry vehicles, or MIRVs.
David Wright, co-director of the Union of Concerned Scientists' Global Security Program, said the successes of the SM-3 program are notable but require more rigorous testing.
"It's an impressive piece of technology, but in our view, in the real world that's not enough," said Wright, who is a physicist.
What's worse, Wright said, is that proclamations of an effective missile shield may strain U.S. relations with Russia and China, which have sophisticated ICBMs with countermeasure and MIRV capabilities.
But a spokesman for the Missile Defense Agency rejected such criticism.
"We disagree with this assessment, and our tests are as operationally realistic as possible given the parameters we have, including safety and environmental rules and regulations, the cost and availability of test assets," MDA spokesman Rock Lehner said in an email.
The Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system has hit targets in the presence of both countermeasures and space "junk," and more advanced versions of the SM-3 will have an early-intercept capability, Lehner said, adding that a prototype version of the SM-3 Block 1A has successfully intercepted a ballistic missile target in the ascent phase.
Both the GMD and SM-3 will conduct flight tests in the presence of countermeasures, and extensive ground testing will also continue to validate and verify capabilities, he said.
"MIRV targets are considered to be highly advanced ballistic missile capabilities not within the current threat assessment," Lehner added.
Nations that pose a more regional threat to European and Asian allies, such as Iran and North Korea, have shorter-range missiles that are believed to lack countermeasures and MIRV capabilities.
"From an operational perspective, this is obvious cause for concern. From the taxpayer standpoint, these tests cost over $200 million apiece, so we can no longer afford to fail."
Sen. Daniel K. Inouye
During Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee hearing May 25
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