The U.S. Missile Defense Agency is halting its work with Coleman Aerospace, owned by L-3 Communications, due to quality control problems in preparing targets for the agency’s flight test program, according to a missile defense program source. Army Lt. Gen. Patrick O’Reilly, MDA’s director, informed Coleman he would halt business shortly after the company supplied a faulty C-17-launched target for a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) flight test in December 2009. The test was aborted after the target encountered problems. MDA Executive Director David Altwegg pointed to the Coleman target during the February rollout of the Fiscal 2011 budget request and complained about quality control problems in industry. The target was found to have a “big-time quality problem,” Altwegg says. “Along about 20,000 feet [altitude], the booster motors light off and the target assumes the trajectory toward the firing unit. We all sat there and watched the target fall into the water.” O’Reilly’s decision was made after an MDA quality control team turned up major problems at Coleman’s facility, according to the source. The company “didn’t pass the 101 test” for quality control, the source told Aviation Week. O’Reilly fumed about poor performance from contractors March 22 during a speech at the 8th Annual Missile Defense Conference in Washington. Though he declined to identify the company, he says he was forced to cut off funding in at least one case for a lack of attention to detail by a manufacturer (Aerospace DAILY, March 23). “I have got to cut off funding, and I have done that in some cases recently,” says O’Reilly, who is widely known as a demanding leader. “If I don’t, you are not going to take it seriously, and I believe if I do, you will take it seriously, and I believe this industry team can do it.” A lack of target availability has plagued the U.S. missile defense testing program, prompting delays over time. In the case of Thaad, officials are planning to conduct the next flight test in June using a different target, and they will eventually retry the failed test once a target is ready. The target was contracted directly from MDA to Coleman, and it was manufactured by the company. Halting work with Coleman will not likely last long. A lack of high volume in the targets business has left the Pentagon with few contractors capable of doing the work.
By Amy Butler/Aviationweek