Military won't quit on missile Lockheed Martin has had trouble making THAAD system work


July 10, 1998|By Greg Schneider | Greg Schneider,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON -- After spending $3.2 billion on an anti-missile system that Lockheed Martin Corp. can't make shoot straight, the military remains "fully committed" to the program and confident that the Bethesda company will eventually get it right, a top general said yesterday.

One reason for optimism is that Lockheed Martin has assigned )) top people from across the far-flung corporation to make the THAAD Army missile program work, said Lt. Gen. Lester L. Lyles, director of the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization, an arm of the Pentagon that oversees the program.

What's more, the world's biggest military contractor has asked a competitor, Raytheon Corp. of Massachusetts, for advice and guidance, Lyles said.

If those steps and others don't whip the system into shape, he said, Lockheed Martin will start paying for failed test flights.

Lyles declined to say how much the Pentagon wants the company to kick in for future botched tests, each of which costs about $15 million. The makers of THAAD -- Theater High-Altitude Area Defense -- have tried and failed seven times to slam their missile into a target rocket over a test range in New Mexico.

The most recent failure, on May 12, came after more than a year of carefully dissecting and reassembling the system to prevent it. Congress was watching intently, having ordered the Pentagon to develop the system as the primary way to protect troops in the field from long-range ballistic missiles such as Iraqi Scuds.

THAAD has the highest profile among the nation's attempts to devise an anti-ballistic missile defense, which has consumed about $50 billion since President Ronald Reagan began the "star wars" effort of the 1980s.

When Lockheed Martin failed again to make the missile work, members of Congress called on the military to bring in a competing, or "second source," contractor. Lyles said he is studying such an option, including whether the second source would take Lockheed Martin's missile design and try to build it correctly or start from scratch with a whole new plan.

Until Congress calls for such drastic action, Lyles said, he is satisfied to proceed with Lockheed Martin. He praised the company for taking several actions in the wake of the latest failure, including:

* Assigning a longtime executive from the company's astronautics division in Denver to trouble-shoot the program. Lyles said company Vice President Ed Squires has a long history of excellence in space programs and characterized him as one of his own mentors. Lockheed Martin has tapped Squires to oversee the next several test flights as part of a general reorganization of THAAD management.

* Forming five review teams to perform autopsies on parts of the system and staffing them with top personnel from units beyond the Lockheed Martin missiles and space division, which assembles THAAD. "One of the things we were a little bit concerned about in the past in the THAAD program is that Lockheed Martin perhaps did not bring in all of the expertise available in this vast and excellent corporation," Lyles said.

This time, he said, the assembled personnel are "people who don't care about corporate loyalties. They're going to tell you in straight fashion what the story is."

* Agreeing to absorb some of the cost of any future failures. Lyles said that aspect is being negotiated, but he added that the basic agreement "is significant, a major, major commitment of support to the program by Lockheed Martin." Sources familiar with the negotiations said the company has offered to pay up to the full cost for each test failure.

* Turning to Raytheon for help. Because of recent mergers with parts of Hughes and Texas Instruments, Raytheon "probably has more tactical missile experience than any other corporation in the United States," Lyles said. The company is a subcontractor on THAAD, providing the radar, which has worked perfectly in every test.

A spokesman for Lockheed Martin's missiles and space division said Raytheon is a member of one of the five review teams offering advice on reducing the risk in future tests.

The system's next test will probably be in the fall, instead of in the summer as originally planned, Lyles said.

The general said he expects to have a report by the end of the month on the cause of the latest failure but that preliminary findings point to a short circuit in the thrust vectoring control mechanism.

Pub Date: 7/10/98

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