Off Target?

By John Liang / April 13, 2010 at 5:00 AM

In last week's issue, Inside Missile Defense featured a story on a GAO report that had some critical things to say about the Missile Defense Agency's LV-2 target rocket. Specifically:

GAO also found problems with the system’s technological maturity: “None of the LV-2’s six critical technologies are fully mature, even through the missile is in production. Five of the LV-2’s critical technologies -- the reentry vehicle separation system and countermeasure integration, the avionics software, avionics suite, and C4 booster -- are nearing maturity but have not been flight tested in their current form, fit, and function on the LV-2.”

In a response to an earlier draft of the report, however, Defense Department officials took issue with GAO’s definition of when a technology can be deemed “mature” before entering into system development. “For GAO, that term means Technology Readiness Level (TRL) 7. For DOD, it means TRL 6,” writes Nancy Spruill, the Pentagon’s director for acquisition resources and analysis.

“Thus, throughout the draft report, there are frequent references to immature technology being used in Major Defense Acquisition Program (MDAP) system development, which is often true if a threshold of TRL 7 is applied,” Spruill adds. The Ballistic Missile Defense System is an MDAP.

While the LV-2 program planned to have those technologies gain maturity through a missile defense flight test as early as 2008, “the first launch has now been delayed until fiscal year 2010,” according to GAO. “In addition, the reentry vehicle shroud is still immature. Program officials discovered problems with the design of the shrouded configuration and considered developing a back-up technology as an alternative. In late 2008, however, officials determined that problems with the original design were manageable and would not affect mission objectives. This technology will not be needed until the LV-2 target’s third launch in a STSS program test now scheduled for the third quarter of fiscal year 2011. Program officials expect it to be nearing maturity by that time.”

GAO notes that in March 2006, the LV-2 target started its development “with almost all of its technologies still being demonstrated in a lab or through analytical studies -- a low level of maturity.”

A Lockheed Martin spokeswoman, however, told Inside Missile Defense in an e-mail today that the LV-2 "has been flown and successfully met all requirements in its maiden flight Jan. 31, 2010" during a failed intercept test of the Ground-based Midcourse Defense system. MDA spokesman Rick Lehner told IMD in a separate e-mail that the "Failure Review Board is still under way for the flight test but haven't heard of any problems with the target."

Further, the Lockheed spokeswoman wrote:

Regarding the portion of the Missile Defense Agency’s targets inventory that Lockheed Martin provides, Lockheed Martin’s Targets and Countermeasures Program has achieved an unmatched 97-percent mission success rate with 35 successful target missions out of 36 since 1996, a level of quality exemplified in the maiden mission of the LV-2 target, which is the most sophisticated target flown to date. Lockheed Martin applies stringent quality standards to yield reliable targets with best value.  As Lockheed Martin transitions from LV-2 development to production, we are focusing on efficiency and cost reduction.