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Missile agency buys, makes unready technology

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The Missile Defense Agency (MDA) is producing and buying technology before it is fully ready, crippling its efforts to develop a system that can intercept ballistic warheads from Iran or other rogue states, according to federal auditors.

"Committing to product development before ... technologies mature, or committing to production and fielding before development is complete, is a high-risk strategy that often results in performance shortfalls, unexpected cost increases, schedule delays, and test problems," a report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) says.

The report says problems and test failures last year with the Ground-based Midcourse Defense system, the Aegis sea-borne missile and the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense were due to this strategy.

For instance, the cost of flight-testing the Ground-based Midcourse Defense system more than quadrupled from $236 million to $1 billion after a design flaw was discovered when production already was under way.

The report calls the missile agency's strategy of acquiring technology "concurrent" because development, testing and production all take place at the same time.

"Because MDA continues to employ concurrent strategies, it is likely that it will continue to experience these kinds of acquisition problems," the report, issued Friday, concludes.

The MDA's own figures show that more than $149 billion dollars has been spent on missile defense since 1985. But Stephen I. Schwartz of the Center for Nonproliferation Studies said that, adjusting for inflation and including ancillary costs excluded from the MDA, the real number is more like $274 billion.

The agency has yet to conduct a successful test against a missile employing special countermeasures to confuse and deflect interceptors, as most real ballistic missile systems do.

"There is a political timeline and agenda that doesn't meet a scientific, development and security timeline," said Rep. Michael R. Turner, Ohio Republican and chairman of a House Armed Forces subcommittee that oversees missile defense. "It does not appear that it can deliver the protection for U.S. homeland that this administration promised."

An MDA spokesman said the agency largely concurred with the report's recommendations.

"Some concurrence between development, flight testing and production is necessary," said MDA spokesman Richard Lehner in an e-mail. "It is not practical to suspend suppliers while we wait till all flight tests are complete for missile defense systems."

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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