By Andrea Shalal
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Pentagon would reassess its plans to put Raytheon Co's CE-2 kill vehicle on 14 more ground-based interceptors if a key test of the system designed to protect the United States from North Korean missile attacks fails again later this month, a top Pentagon official said Wednesday.
Missile Defense Agency Director Vice Admiral James Syring said the agency's highest near-term priority was a successful intercept test of the ground-based missile defense system run by Boeing Co, and the latest Raytheon-built kill vehicle, which has failed both intercept tests attempted to date.
Senator Richard Durbin, who heads the Senate Appropriations Committee's defense subcommittee, asked Syring during a hearing on the agency's budget whether the contractors on the program were helping foot the estimated $1.3 billion cost of redesigning the kill vehicle after repeated test failures.
Syring said the government had already docked Boeing's award and incentive fees, and had structured its latest contract with the company so it could "go back retroactively" and recoup earlier fees in the event of another failure. No details were provided on the extent of the fees lost by Boeing.
Syring underscored the importance of the test, and said it would be closely watched by U.S. allies and foes alike.
He said the agency would carefully investigate and correct any simple test problems. But he said another failure of the newest Raytheon kill vehicle, the Capability Enhancement-II Exoatmospheric Kill Vehicle (EKV) would be a different matter.
"If it was another kill vehicle problem, which would now make us 0 for 3 on this design, I think you would see us taking a step back and assess taking delivery of the EKV that we're planning to take upon a successful flight test," Syring said.
He said the agency had stopped accepting the Boeing ground-based interceptors, pending a successful intercept flight test. Deliveries would resume if the test went well, he said.
Senator Lisa Murkowski, an Alaska Republican, said the test was planned for June 22, as reported by Reuters last week.
Syring said each intercept flight test of the GMD system cost around $200 million, and the test this month was structured to be "very operationally realistic."
He said each of the 14 additional interceptors being added to the 30 interceptors already in the ground in Alaska and California by 2017 would cost about $75 million.
Delivery of those interceptors was put on hold after a test failure last July involving the earlier version of the Raytheon kill vehicle, CE-I, which had succeeded in three earlier tests.
Syring said the agency was also developing acquisition plans for a new long-range radar to help identify threats, and planned to award a contract for the work in fiscal 2015.
He said the agency was also on track to award Raytheon a contract for 52 more Standard-Missile-3s this month.
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal. Editing by Andre Grenon)