DoD News Briefing

Tuesday, May 12, 1998 - 1:50 P.M.
Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD (PA)


Q: I wanted to ask you about the latest THAAD test today. Does this less than successful test indicate that THAAD is in fact as troubled a program as its critics say?

A: The challenge raised by -- the challenge THAAD has to resolve is a difficult challenge. It is, as you know, an upper atmosphere, 100-kilometer or above weapon that's supposed to intercept a missile coming toward U.S. forces and kill it. There have been five tests so far, five hit-to-kill tests. The fifth was this morning and none has succeeded yet. But they have each failed for different reasons so there's no single systemic reason apparent from these tests as to why the failures took place. They have all been different.

As you know, last year, in the Quadrennial Defense Review, Secretary Cohen delayed the deployment date, planned deployment date of the THAAD by two years, to 2006 in order to reduce the risk to the program. We will learn from this failure and continue with the program.

Certainly, when we get the results of the failure, an explanation of why it happened, Secretary Cohen will sit down with Under Secretary Gansler and Lieutenant General Lyles to discuss this result and the program itself. But right now there's no decision to slow down the program. It's an important program. Every piece of intelligence we have says that we have to do more to protect our troops from the theater ballistic missile attack or potential theater ballistic missile attack, and this is one of the reach-out programs we have for doing that.

As you know, we also have shorter range programs that are developed through Patriot 3, PAC-3, and MEADs. We have another long-range program, the Navy area-wide program, which is a program that will come on line later than this.

Q: Not to forget the airborne laser.


Q: But let me ask you about the -- in February the Pentagon's own review looked at national missile defense, and it, again, was designed to look at national missile defense, but it looked at THAAD to see what kinds of lessons it could learn. And it concluded that there were lots of problems with THAAD and it also concluded that there was a "rush to failure" in a lot of these programs and that there was too much of an emphasis on meeting artificial deadlines, and that was causing some of the failures in what would normally be low risk systems.

Is this an example of a rush to failure?

A: We want to make this program a rush to success, and to do that you have to have tests. We will continue to test the program until we get it right.

It's a complex program. Everybody realizes this. National missile defense is a complex program. This is a theater version of national missile defense in a way, and we will continue to work on it.

No one ever said that this was an easy program, and the tests have proven that to be the case. But because there have been five hit-to-kill failures so far, and each one has been caused by something different, we just have to keep chipping away at the reasons for those failures and try to make the improvements.

There are significant parts of the program that seem to be working well. The radar is a very powerful, far-reaching radar. Phased array radar seems to be working well. The launcher seems to be working well. A central part of the program, the sort of command and control battle manager part of the program, we think is working quite well.

The problem has been with various elements of the missile so far. Sometimes getting information to the missile has proven to be a problem but the program managers are working hard to solve those.

Q: I just wanted to follow up. Why won't the Army release the video of this test today? Because you know if this had been a successful hit-to-kill, we'd have this video already. So why won't they release the video?

A: I wasn't aware that they weren't releasing it. I'll ask them.

Q: You say that each failure has been for a different reason. What do you know about today's failure already that allows you to (inaudible)?

A: Well, we don't know exactly why this failure occurred. It only occurred at 7:30 this morning, and they haven't completed the analysis. But I can tell you that it failed in a very, very early part of the flight, and the other failures have been at different times in the flight pattern. So we assume that since we know why the other failures occurred, and since this one doesn't immediately fit those patterns, that it occurred for a different reason.

Q: Well, the preliminary thinking that something went wrong with the booster today?

A: It occurred during an early period of the flight when the missile burns off extra fuel and does some maneuvers to burn off extra fuel. I can't give you any more explanation of why the failure occurred because the program managers don't know yet why the failure occurred.

Q: Was it destroyed after it malfunctioned? The release didn't didn't make that clear. It was very early.

A: I believe it destroyed itself.

Q: Phased array radar boosters is '60s technology. Are you throwing money down a rat-hole? At what point are you going to stop this program? I mean, if you continue to run up 10 more failures, are going to keep doing this?

A: Well, most of us learn by failure. We hope to learn by success, and we hope to turn these failures into a success, as I said. So far that clearly hasn't happened.

But the most we can do with a complex program like this, we basically have two choices: We can make the program work or we can decide it's never going to work and stop the program.

Right now we have not reached that second conclusion, and I have no indication that we will. Right now the building is determined to try to make this program work. It is a program designed to address an important and growing threat, and therefore we will continue on the program to make it work.

Q: I have two key points. If phased array radar goes back to --

A: I didn't say -- I said phased array radar was part of it that's working. I didn't say that was the problem.

Q: It's old technology. The booster is old technology as well. Where is the difficulty with this program?

A: You are leaping to two conclusions that I think are not proven. I didn't say that radar was the problem and I didn't say that the booster was the problem.

If you look at what has caused the problems so far, only one was attributed to the booster, one of the flight failures, the first, was attributed to a booster malfunction. The second was attributed to a miscommunication between a range radar system, not the phased radar system that is being developed for the THAAD and the missile itself. There was a miscue which sent the missile to the wrong place so it missed its interceptor.

Another failure occurred because of a system that's supposed to change the angle of the missile. It didn't work properly. And another failure took place because of a -- there was basically an eye -- there is an eye in the missile that complements the radar in finding its target -- and the eye became blurred in some way that they don't fully understand. It became blurred either because of internal contamination in the eye or some other reason. But this caused it to go off course and miss its target.

And we don't know the reason for this latest failure. But there have been five failures and we think that there are five different reasons for those failures. We won't know for sure whether there are five different reasons for the failures until we complete the analysis of this latest one.

Q: Are you confident in the management of this program?

A: I think that the program has strong managers but one of the things that happens after every failure is that people sit down and look at the entire program, and we'll do that again this time. But the fact is that this is a program -- we need a program that does what this one is designed to do. And that's a powerful reason for continuing to work on the program.

The people who run the program think that they have made significant progress in certain areas of the program. Obviously, there is a long way to go and that's what they're going to continue working on.

Q: Is there a cut off on how many failed tests that you guys will accept before you decided to either slow down the program or --

A: Not that I'm aware of, no. I mean, I think we have to take this test by test.

Q: Is any consideration being given towards bringing a second supplier since the building itself has expressed some dissatisfaction following the first four failures about Lockheed Martin's performance in the program management?

A: There has been a lot of effort over the last 12 to 14 months to improve the reliability of the program. And that has applied both to the contractor and to the team working on the program. Obviously, efforts to improve reliability will continue.

Q: So you're not right now looking at bringing on a second supplier for possibly -- someone to come in and --

A: This latest test failure just occurred at 7:30 this morning. And the first step is to figure out why it occurred and then we'll take that information -- the Secretary will sit down with Under Secretary Gansler and General Lyles and others and take a look at the program. But right now there is no decision made or no hint of a decision made to slow or change the program.

Q: When is the next test scheduled and what is the annual expenditure on THAAD, do you know?

A: The current -- the budget for fiscal '99, which begins on October 1st, is $497 million in the demonstration and validation phase of THAAD and $324 million for the engineering and manufacturing development phase.

To date, $3.2 billion has been spent on developing the system.

Q: And the next test?

A: Don't know the date of the next test. It will depend in part on what the results of the analysis of this failure are.

A: I think we have to evaluate the results of this test before we can decide what the schedule is.

Q: Ken, do you know if this is a cost-plus contract?

A: It is.

Q: So no matter how long they work on this they're still making money?

A: That's right. It is a cost-plus contract with an incentive fee.

Q: Although this was a theater weapon, what implications does today's failure carry for the national missile program?

A: I think it's hard to know until we understand more about the failure.

Q: How long did the flight test last today and how high did THAAD get?

A: I don't know the answers to those questions.

Q: Another subject?

Are we through with THAAD?

Q: Can you take how long this initially flew flew? That shouldn't be classified --?

A: Yeah. We'll try to find the answer --

Q: It landed two miles from the THAAD, so not too far.

Q: Just one more on THAAD. There was a lot of talk within the Army about it getting (inaudible) the point of the test flight where at least it was locked on target and guiding itself. It didn't get that far today, did it?

A: No. It didn't come close.