The U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA) is planning to take the reins of its own kill vehicle redesign work and undergo the thorny process of crafting a national team,  as suggested last year.

The agency is "very close to approval" for the strategy to procure the so-called Redesigned Kill Vehicle (RKV), says Vice Adm. James Syring, MDA director.

"We are seeking approval for a government design authority approach where we would manage [the activities of] three contractors—Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and Boeing—and the development of the design. . . . We would design the trade studies that will be conducted in terms of best components and best subcomponents," Syring told reporters at a Feb. 2 briefing on the agency’s $8.13 billion budget request for fiscal 2016. "In the end it will be our design."

This is a departure for MDA, which has relied heavily on industry to serve as the prime integrator for its major programs, such as the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) and Aegis missile defense projects. However, the systems integrator approach has been a mixed bag for the Defense Department; critics point to Boeing’s oversight of GMD and the Army’s defunct Future Combat Systems venture as lackluster examples of the strategy.

By overseeing the work, MDA will retain final design authority, Syring says. The agency plans to conduct a competition for production of this design in fiscal 2018 as part of a follow-on to the development and sustainment contract for GMD won in 2011 by Boeing. When Boeing won the contract, it was worth about $3.5 billion and estimated to go as high as $10 billion over 10 years if all options are exercised. The Boeing/Northrop Grumman team beat out Lockheed Martin and Raytheon.

Syring said the agency has budgeted $658 million for RKV in fiscal 2016-20 in its request, which was sent this week to Congress.

The agency hopes to keep GMD as relevant as possible against an evolving threat. Syring acknowledged that Iran is still expected to flight test an intercontinental ballistic missile this year, a milestone long expected by U.S. intelligence estimates. Iran launched a small satellitethought to be for reconnaissanceinto orbit on Feb. 2, underscoring progress in Tehran’s space and missile programs. U.S. State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said that "Iran’s missile program continues to pose a dangerous threat to the region and is an issue we monitor closely. And our longstanding concerns regarding Iran’s missile development efforts are shared by the international community." Likewise, U.S. planners worry about Russian and Chinese ambitions and the willingness of these countries to sell missile technologies to adversaries.

MDA’s kill vehicle strategy is perhaps its most dynamic project, at least in the unclassified arena, for the agency’s fiscal 2016 plan. Alongside RKV, the agency is also providing seed money for so-called Common Kill Vehicle technology.

The Raytheon Exoatmospheric Kill Vehicle (EKV) now on alert atop GMD’s Ground Based Interceptors (GBI), has proven unreliable, driving the Army to a less-than-optimal shot doctrine. Because EKV is unreliable, fewer targets can be destroyed with the small fleet planned to be on alert. Syring says MDA is on course to deliver the 44 interceptors required by the end of 2017.

RKV is needed in the near term to address the EKV reliability concerns. But it is only a band-aid. CKV is the objective, and among the technologies being pursued in the fiscal 2016 budget are new divert-and-attitude-control systems for "volume kill," which refers to using multiple kill vehicles atop a single booster to maximize the number of targets engaged per shot. In total, MDA is requesting $380 million through fiscal 2016 for a CKV.

Justification materials for the line items, however, are not out yet. So precise details are unavailable.

These are measures being taken to shore up GMD after years of reduced funding for systems engineering and monitoring of the assets already built. This lack of attention is partly to blame for repeated flight-test failures; this poor record came to an end with a successful intercept last June in flight trial FTG-06b. In his overview, Syring acknowledges the newest EKV, dubbed CE-II, intercepted a target "in the presence of countermeasures." MDA is usually secretive about whether countermeasures are used or not in testing. Along with the theme of ensuring today’s GBI fleet is meeting requirements, MDA also plans to conduct reliability characterization activities for boosters already deployed.

The MDA’s $650 million request for fiscal 2016-20 for the new Long-Range Discrimination Radar is also expected to refine the capabilities of GMD. To date, it relies on existing radars, some of which have been upgraded, and intermittent service from the Boeing Sea-Based X-band (SBX) system. Alhough SBX once was slated for termination, MDA’s budget request plans for SBX operations through fiscal 2020 totaling $379 million.