By Andrea Shalal
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Raytheon Co on Monday said it expects to soon resume production of an updated warhead, or "kill vehicle," used for U.S. homeland missile defense after the system successfully intercepted a dummy target over the Pacific.
"There are no other hurdles that we're aware of, so we expect that we will go into production shortly," Wes Kremer, vice president of air and missile defense systems at Raytheon, told reporters on a teleconference.
Raytheon is a subcontractor to Boeing Co on the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system, which defends the United States against long-range ballistic missiles and is projected to cost a total of $41 billion.
The system hit a simulated enemy missile on Sunday for the first time since 2008.
Kremer said Raytheon had not been officially notified by the Missile Defense Agency about resuming production, but the test had clearly validated the revamped design of the kill vehicle, which separates from the ground-based interceptor and hits an incoming warhead.
The Exoatmospheric Kill Vehicle Capability Enhancement II, EKV CE-II, is already carried by 10 of the 30 U.S. interceptors already in silos in Alaska and California, but it had failed to hit its target in two previous flight tests in 2010.
The earlier version of the kill vehicle, the CE-I, which is on the remaining 20 interceptors, failed its last intercept test in July 2013, but the government says it expects to correct the problem that caused that failure by year's end.
Kremer said he was not aware of any plans to test the CE-1 kill vehicle.
He said Raytheon is keen to compete for work on a new kill vehicle design that the agency has said it plans to pursue and field by 2017 or 2018.
"This test ... does not negate the need to do a redesign to improve the overall reliability of the kill vehicle," Kremer said, adding that Raytheon would use its experience with the Standard Missile-3 to improve the GMD warhead's reliability.
He said the kill vehicles in use now were designed to be autonomous, but technology advances since then would allow the new warhead to be more tightly integrated into the overall U.S. missile defense system.Reuters reported on Friday the Pentagon is restructuring its $3.48 billion contract with Boeing for management of the missile defense system to put more emphasis on maintenance and reliability.
Kremer confirmed the report but declined comment on negotiations between the government and Boeing, or the possible timing of a new agreement.
"Clearly, in general, the wise thing to do is to write contracts in a manner that reflects the priorities of the government such that everybody is working toward the same goal, and I think that's what they're focused on," Kremer said.
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Paul Simao)