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Kinetic Energy Interceptor (KEI) Technology Status

In November 2003 Boeing [NYSE:BA] successfully tested a new rocket thruster, just eight inches in length, that is now the most powerful engine of its type in the propulsion industry. Developed by Boeing Rocketdyne in Canoga Park, Calif., the Divert and Attitude Control System (DACS) engine generated 1,100 pounds of thrust in hot-fire tests conducted recently at White Sands Test Facility, N.M. The tests follow a design and development schedule that moved from a clean sheet of paper to working hardware in only five months. Creation of the DACS engine was aimed at meeting high-performance propulsion needs of the Kinetic Energy Interceptor (KEI), the next-generation missile defense concept. Characteristics of the new DACS rocket thruster include the ability to be turned on and off in any sequence to meet mission requirements, as commanded by the targeting, guidance, navigation and control system; very high specific impulse and thrust-to-weight-ratios; and highly reliable operation and low production costs. A key advantage of the engine is its use of storable liquid propellants, which are fully-characterized with well-documented technical, performance, operational, safety and handling data.

The activities completed during 2004 included constructing a shelter to house prototype fire control and communications equipment and conducting several demonstrations. According to program officials, the demonstrations showed the prototype equipment could collect data from overhead nonimaging infrared satellites in a time frame that would make a boost phase intercept possible. In addition, the program completed studies that allowed it to optimize the design of communications equipment that uplinks information from KEI's fire control and communications component to its interceptor so that there is a decreased likelihood that communications will be jammed. The studies also allowed the program to optimize the equipment's design to operate in a nuclear environment.

The KEI program delayed some activities related to its Near Field Infrared Experiment (NFIRE), which was being conducted to gather data on the risk in identifying the body of a missile from the plume of hot exhaust gases that can obscure the body while the missile is boosting. As part of its fiscal year 2005 activities, the KEI program intended to complete a number of tasks that would have enabled it to conduct the NFIRE experiment. In fiscal year 2005, the KEI program expected to calibrate and deliver the sensor payload, complete the space vehicle integration and acceptance test, procure targets, and certify mission operation readiness.

As of 2005 all 7 KEI BPI critical technologies were at a relatively low level of maturity, ranging from proofs of concept established through analytical or laboratory studies to new applications of existing technologies. For example, the program is leveraging existing interceptor technologies - infrared seeker, third stage rocket motor, and divert system-that are currently used in other MDA programs. The program office rated the development of 2 critical technologies as high risk. The first involves one of the interceptor's booster motors, which demands high performance for KEI BPI engagements. In addition, the program office judged the algorithm enabling the kill vehicle to identify the missile's body from the luminous exhaust plume as a high-risk technology [the "plume-hardbody" problem].

All 7 KEI BPI critical technologies are at a relatively low level of maturity. These technologies are part of the element's interceptor, the weapon component of the element consisting of a kill vehicle mounted atop a boost vehicle. Of the 7 technologies, 4 pertain to the boost vehicle that propels the kill vehicle into space. They are its 2 types of booster motors, attitude control system, and thrust vector control system. The remaining 3 technologies pertain to the kill vehicle-its infrared seeker, divert system, and plume-to-hardbody algorithms.

Although all KEI BPI technologies are immature, 3 of the 7 are derived from existing components in other missile defense programs. The infrared seeker and the third stage rocket motor come from the Aegis BMD program, and the divert system comes from the GMD program. Backup technologies exist for all but the infrared seeker, however, they are at the same low level of maturity as the critical technologies.

The program office noted that KEI BPI critical technologies are not at a low level of maturity in and of themselves. The program's assessment - which rated each technology as relatively immature - was made from a systems perspective (i.e., it characterized the risk associated with integrating and demonstrating these technologies in the KEI environment). The 7 critical interceptor technologies will be assessed as mature if the program successfully completes its first intercept attempt of a boosting missile. This flight test is expected to be conducted sometime after 2010.

Kinetic Energy Boost Phase Interceptor missions are extremely time constrained, necessitating launch of high velocity interceptors without precise targeting information. Consequently, highly flexible upper stage and Divert and Attitude Control System (DACS) propulsion systems are necessary to facilitate appropriate trajectory shaping and impulse management required to achieve a direct hit intercept. Flexibility is critical in these components, since upper stage and DACS propulsion elements are functioned later in the mission when more accurate guidance information is available. Life cycle safety for these propulsion elements is also important, to support shipboard, space-based and non-traditional deployment modes.

Boost Phase Intercept Missiles require extremely high thrust axial motors in order to engage hostile targets in their boost phase. The extremely high thrust axial motors operate at very high pressures for short burn-times (much less than 10 seconds). The nozzle must survive the very high thermal stresses and exhibit minimal throat erosion in order to maximize intercept missile performance. Since missile diameter is expected to be from 20" to 30", throat diameter is assumed to be approximately 4" to 8" and nozzle fabrication technologies must be scalable to these dimensions.

The System Requirements Review, which documents mission objectives, identifies critical components, and establishes a program plan, was delayed from fiscal year 2004 to 2005 and then to fiscal year 2007. Program officials noted that funding shortfalls also forced the program to eliminate some of its initial risk reduction activities. For instance, the program originally planned to develop a two-color seeker, which would aid in plume-to-hardbody handover.10 However, because of a reduced program budget, program officials now plan to take advantage of the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense program's development of a two-color seeker and to work on a KEI-specific two-color seeker later in the program.

By mid-2007 KEI's seven critical technologies remained at a relatively low level of maturity, with two rated as high risk - the interceptor's booster motors and the algorithm that enables the kill vehicle to identify the threat missile's body from the luminous exhaust plume. During fiscal year 2006, program officials conducted a series of static fire tests and wind tunnel tests in preparation for a planned 2008 booster flight test. After the booster flight test, MDA will assess KEI's achievements and decide how the program should proceed. If a decision is made to move forward, MDA plans to finalize the design during the second quarter of fiscal year 2011. According to program officials, by that time 4 of the 7 critical technologies will be demonstrated in flight tests, but the other 3 will have only completed ground testing.

KEI critical technologies are part of the element's interceptor - the weapon component of the element consisting of a kill vehicle mounted atop a boost vehicle. Four of the seven technologies are critical to the performance of the boost vehicle, which propels the kill vehicle into space. Boost vehicle technologies include three stages of booster motors, an attitude control system, and a thrust vector control sytem. The remaining three technologies are related to the kill vehicle - its infrared seeker, divert system, and plume-to-hardbody algorithms. Backup technologies exist for all technologies, with the exception of the infrared seeker. However, these technologies are at the same low level of maturity as the critical technologies.

MDA planned as of 2007 to demonstrate three critical technologies - the thrust vector control system, attitude control system, and the three-stage booster motor - in two booster flight tests by the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2011. Other technologies will have been demonstrated in ground tests, such as hardware-in-the-loop tests. The integration of all critical technologies will be demonstrated in an element characterization test early in fiscal year 2013, a sea risk reduction flight test in mid-fiscal year 2013, followed by the first integrated flight test late in fiscal year 2013.

Program officials noted that they expected the design of the demonstration hardware to be the same as the design of the operational hardware. Therefore, integration and manufacturability issues are being addressed in the design of the demonstration hardware. According to program officials, KEI's operational design will be finalized in 2011. KEI officials estimate that KEI's design will incorporate about 7,500 drawings. The officials expect 5,000 of these drawings to be complete when it holds a critical design/production readiness review for the land-based capability in 2011.

One initiative of the program's acquisition strategy is the inclusion in Northrop Grumman's development contract of a firm, fixed unit production price for all of the element's components-launcher, interceptor, and battle management. This initiative is unique because the production price was agreed upon before the contractor developed the component's design and because the price was a factor in MDA's choice of Northrop Grumman as the KEI prime contractor. Program officials believe that the government benefited from this strategy, because competition encouraged Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin, which were competing for the contract, to offer MDA their best production price.

According to program officials, Northrop Grumman could ask for a price increase, should it find, when production begins, that it cannot produce the components at the agreed-upon price. However, the price increase would come with a cost to the contractor. Northrop Grumman would have to provide data to support the new price, which would be time-consuming, and therefore, costly.

Although this initiative appears to be beneficial to MDA, the agency could find when it reaches the production phase that it has not budgeted sufficient funds to support the production program. According to a study conducted by the Institute for Defense Analyses, requiring a binding price commitment during the development phase of an acquisition program provides the contractor with a significant incentive to underestimate production costs. The study goes on to explain that because of a similar initiative in the 1960s, a statistically significant number of contractors experienced production costs much greater than the firm fixed price agreed upon.

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Page last modified: 21-07-2011 00:47:06 ZULU