Ballistic Missile Defense: The CE-II Interceptors – Beyond High Concurrency (September 4, 2012)

After putting up my previous post (August 31, 2012) about how the interceptors of the Ground-based Midcourse (GMD) national missile defense system were deployed before completing a successful intercept test, I came across two figures in a Government Accountability Office  report that dramatically (I think) illustrate the root cause of the current problems with the interceptors.  


The figure above is from (page 16) the April 12, 2012 GAO report “Missile Defense: Opportunity Exists to Strengthen Acquisition by Reducing Concurrency.”  As the GAO has been doing for a number of years, this report criticizes the Missile Defense Agency for having a high degree of concurrency in some of its programs.  The GAO defines concurrency as “overlap between technology development and product development or between product development and production of a system.” According to the GAO, a high degree of concurrency, as illustrated in the upper half of the above figure “often results in performance shortfalls, unexpected cost increases, schedule delays and test problems.”  On the other hand, the GAO states that “successful programs” follow a “systematic and disciplined knowledge-based approach” as shown in the lower half of the figure.

In its Ground-Based Interceptor (GBI) program, however, the MDA has managed to go far far beyond the above figure’s illustration of high concurrency.  The figure below, from the same GAO report (page 17), shows the program schedule for the GBI’s CE-II kill vehicle. (As a reminder, the CE-II is the second version of the kill vehicle used on the GBI interceptor missile.  The CE-II was needed because in the rush to achieve a GMD operational capability before the end of 2004, the original CE-I version of the kill vehicle was built with obsolescent parts.)


As this chart shows, technology development, product development, and production for the CE-II kill vehicle all started simultaneously.  In fact, although not shown on this chart, deployment of GBIs equipped with the CE-II kill vehicle began in 2008, years before the development of its technology was completed, and about 14 years before the currently planned end of its developmental test program.  Predictably, there have been problems.  The CE-II kill vehicle has a design flaw which was not discovered until its second flight test, more than two years after its deployment began (its first test failed for a different reason, before the design flaw could be revealed).   As a result, in early 2011, its production was suspended until it can successfully complete an intercept test (which will be in 2013 at the earliest), after which the ten currently deployed CE-II GBI interceptors will have to be repaired at a cost currently estimated to be about $18 million each. 


Leave a comment


  1. RCrierie

     /  September 20, 2012

    I’m not quite sure where to place this comment, as you have multiple blogposts on the extremely high concurrency of the GMD system.

    It’s worth noting that we’ve seen this level of extremely high concurrency before — back when the first ballistic missiles were deployed by the two superpowers.

    The big difference that stands out to me from comparing the two deployments (ICBM vs GMD) is that ICBMs were extremely well supported budgetarily, while GMD has not been well supported (relatively speaking).

    Atlas A had a 4-4 success rate in eight launches over twelve months (50% success)

    Atlas B had a 5-4 success rate in nine launches over 6.5 months (55% success)

    Likewise, the first three launches of Atlas D were failures, but they occured over a very extremely compressed time period — April to June 1959.

    If you go look at GMD, a pattern becomes clear of waiting a year (or more) between FTGs in an attempt to stretch out the operational/testing budget, as a full-up test with an interceptor and target missile can easily reach into the hundreds of millions minimal.

    If you were to ask me for my opinion of the GMD deployment without an adequately supported operational test budget — it was a successful ploy by the Bush Administration to get the technology deployed (or extremely well along to deployment) before the end of his two terms in order to build up a stockpile of operational experience that would make shutting down the entire ABM program extremely hard; again building on experience learned with SAFEGUARD, which was operational for only a brief period of time before it was defunded by Congress.

  2. I think you are absolutely right about the finanacial aspect of the GBI’s problems. This doesn’t get enough attention.
    George Lewis


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