By Emelie Rutherford

A senior Pentagon official told missile-defense contractors yesterday "quality control" of industry products is so poor it has risen to be one of the preeminent problems facing the Missile Defense Agency (MDA).

"I have gone to a point where I am withholding funding for current contracts because I don’t see the level of certainty and the level of culture necessary for the precision work that’s required," MDA Director Army Lt. Gen. Patrick O’Reilly said at a Washington conference. A trend of quality-control shortfalls "is a big problem, and it is intolerable for missile defense" and the "precision instruments" the government is buying, the general said.

He said quality control of industry products is one of two "real challenges for missile defense." He declined to share the second challenge, when speaking at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics’ 8th Annual U.S. Missile Defense Conference and Exhibit, but said he will testify before Congress in the coming weeks about both concerns.

O’Reilly did not name specific companies or products spurring his quality-control concerns. Yet he said issues have arisen during manufacturing, and the "No. 1 problem that we have in quality control" relates to connectors and cables.

"So part of it is better design," he said. "Part of it is discipline. And if you have a design which doesn’t have much tolerance, we don’t want the product. I don’t want to fund it."

O’Reilly, who has led MDA for roughly a year now, called for "culture change" and "personnel changes" in industry.

"Replace people, fire people, do whatever you’ve got to do," he said at the conference full of defense contractors. "But we’ve got to have the change in the culture so you produce precision instruments in which many of these capabilities are, or (you have to) redesign so that we can then take advantage of greater tolerances."

He said the government also contributed to quality-control shortcomings, and "the blame’s on all of us."

"We haven’t bought things in lots and inventories where you can invest in a redesign, you can invest in having production lots that are produced in a (better) way," he said.

O’Reilly said he has cut off funding "in some cases" for missile-defense products, because he believes if he doesn’t, MDA officials are "not going to be taken seriously."

"I think we can build very high quality, very reliable components for missile defense," he said. "But it doesn’t come natural, it doesn’t come (without) a lot of sweat and exertion. We need to roll up our sleeves and do that right now."

O’Reilly spoke positively about how Lockheed Martin [LMT] previously addressed quality concerns with the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense systems following a series of failures.

A MDA spokesman declined to share the second major problem O’Reilly sees in the missile-defense arena, but said the general will divulge what it is when he testifies before Congress in April.