Missile Fails 4 Tests But Gets Pentagon Green Light

April 24, 1997|By Greg Schneider | Greg Schneider,SUN STAFF

Pentagon review panels gave two thumbs up yesterday to a Lockheed Martin Corp. missile that has been tested four times and failed each test.

One Defense Department team said that the missile's design is sound and another panel said the concept is sound. The panels were made up of officials from the Army and from the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization (BMDO).

Senior Pentagon officials had expressed reservations about the Bethesda company's Theater High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile when it failed a fourth attempt to hit a target last month in New Mexico.

Pentagon acquisitions chief Paul Kaminski suggested to a congressional panel that the $10 billion program might need to be restructured, and BMDO chief Gen. Lester L. Lyles promised to personally oversee the review teams.

The Army has already spent about $2.5 billion on the program, and President Clinton has asked for about $556 million for next year. The Pentagon would like to buy a total of 1,233 missiles.

The THAAD missile is designed to knock enemy missiles out of the sky. Unlike other such weapons that explode near their target, such as the Patriot missile, the THAAD has to score a direct hit.

Experts say the technology is so complex that the program simply needs time to mature.

Analyst Steven Zaloga, who follows the missile industry for the Teal Group defense consulting firm, said he was not surprised that the Pentagon panels gave the troubled THAAD a green light.

"People have to be more patient with it," Zaloga said. "New technology doesn't follow schedules real tightly."

The review panels recommended a number of steps to keep the program on track, such as conducting more tests on components through simulations and minimizing changes to the system in its early stages.

The BMDO and the Army are reviewing the reports. A fifth THAAD test scheduled for this summer may be delayed, the Defense Department said.

Pub Date: 4/24/97

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