Tough Talk

By Thomas Duffy / May 13, 2009 at 5:00 AM

Federal agencies are usually loath to air any dirty laundry involving their relationships with contractors, even if those problems are dragging down a program the agency is trying to complete. But the Missile Defense Agency recently took the unusual step of calling out its industry partners for shoddy work that has increased costs and lengthened schedules on several programs.

In a preface to its fiscal year 2010 budget request overview that was issued May 7, the agency stated:

MDA and Mission Assurance. During the 1990s and early part of this decade, we learned that missile defense systems have very little tolerance for quality control errors, as we experienced many flight test failures. Out of necessity, MDA has since nurtured a culture of mission assurance within the Agency and within the missile defense industry as quality control and mission assurance remain the Agency’s highest priority. The Agency performs routine mission assurance evaluations and has permanent Mission Assurance Representatives at several sites.

Recently, there have been very disappointing lapses in quality management involving several of our industry partners that have impacted system element cost, schedule, and performance. There have been frequent schedule slips on the ((Space Tracking and Surveillance System)) program, some resulting in significant delays, due to quality issues caused by lack of discipline and detail in the procedures. Similarly, we have recently suffered over 50 days of manufacturing delays due to a lack of discipline during ((Exoatmospheric Kill Vehicle)) assembly and testing. There are other examples over the past year. We are working closely with ((Defense Contract Management Agency)) to hold our industry partners accountable and improve their execution of quality control in manufacturing facilities.

The STSS program is under contract to Northrop Grumman. The company took another body blow from MDA when the Pentagon canceled the Kinetic Energy Interceptor program in the FY-10 budget request. KEI was to be a very fast interceptor to attack ballistic missiles during their early moments of flight. According to information the agency sent Congress last week, the KEI's cost is “currently estimated at $75 million per unit."

On May 7, an agency official told reporters that along with the program's cost, MDA has had problems with the materials and the electronics Northrop Grumman used. “By that I mean ((rocket)) cases bursting during static-fire tests or pre-testing of samples,” he said.

Raytheon is building the EKV for MDA.