The Kinetic Energy Interceptor (KEI) ballistic missile interceptor system, in a successful rocket motor test last week, showed that engineers have resolved problems with the system ranging from motor nozzle issues to a pressure spike that marred earlier tests, officials said yesterday.

That was the view from Anthony Spehar, Northrop Grumman [NOC] Space Technology vice president and KEI program manager; Chuck Ross, Raytheon [RTN] Missile Systems KEI vice president; and Bill Condas, Alliant Techsystems [ATK] vice president for strategic systems.

In earlier tests, there were “nozzle issues” that force a redesign of the nozzles, and the redesign was validated, Spehar said.

Also, in earlier testing, there was a troublesome pressure spike in the rocket motor. But a “tweak” in the design resolved that problem and “eliminated the pressure spike,” he said.

To ensure the KEI rocket motors will function well in varying realistic conditions, they are being tested at widely differing temperatures, such as 47 degrees Fahrenheit, or at very hot summer-like temperatures.

The KEI first and second stage motors have had three ground-firing tests, with two more to go. The next first-stage test will be at Promontory, Utah, at an ATK facility.

Eventually, there will be flight demonstration tests running to 2014. There is as yet no date set for the first KEI attempt to shoot down a target missile.

While KEI now is configured with a unitary kill vehicle as its warhead demolishing enemy missiles, KEI can accept a multiple kill vehicle system to intercept multiple incoming enemy missiles and/or decoys, briefers said.

Also, it could be used as a sea mobile asset, on a submarine or on a large cargo-ship type of platform, briefers said. It eventually also might be able to go on a future cruiser.

Shifting to the now-concluding budget season in Congress, Spehar said KEI received full funding for fiscal 2009, which begins tomorrow.

The KEI program will receive $386 million of appropriated money, the entire amount that President Bush requested. Separately, the KEI program received a $45 million cut in a defense authorization, or enabling, bill, but it is the appropriations measure that determines how much cash money any program actually receives.

Northrop Grumman is the KEI prime contractor and weapons systems supplier, while Raytheon supplies the interceptor missile and ATK provides the rocket motors.

KEI originally was envisioned as a high-speed, fast acceleration missile defense asset taking out enemy missiles shortly after they launch, in their boost phase.

However, a competing system, the Airborne Laser, may fill that role first. The ABL involves a highly modified 747-400 jumbo jet contributed by prime contractor Boeing [BA], laser systems by Northrop Grumman, and a beam control/fire control system by Lockheed Martin [LMT] to aim the laser beam at the enemy weapon.

So KEI may be used as a mobile shield to take out enemy missiles in their midcourse of flight.

Russia is threatening to use nuclear weapons to annihilate a planned U.S. fixed-site, non-mobile European Missile Defense system that would be installed in the Czech Republic (radar) and Poland (interceptors in ground silos). This would be a Boeing-led program, a variant of the Ground-based Midcourse Defense system already installed in Alaska and California.