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Navy cuts Raytheon weapon

Offshore projectile had failed testing, cost $600m so far

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Bryan Bender and Matt Negrin
Globe Correspondent / March 22, 2008

WASHINGTON - After more than a decade of research and $600 million spent, the Navy said yesterday it will cut off funding for a long-range naval weapon designed by Raytheon Co. that has repeatedly failed to perform as advertised in field tests, according to Navy and company officials.

The Waltham-based defense giant has long struggled to develop the Extended-Range Guided Munition, a high-tech projectile designed to be fired from Navy destroyers up to 50 miles offshore in support of ground troops. Most recently, in February, the guidance system, the rocket motor, and tail fins all flunked demonstration tests at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.

A Navy official said yesterday that it has decided that the expected costs to save the effort - designated as a top military acquisition program in 2006 - are simply too high to justify going forward.

"Additional funds are not going to be applied to the contract," a Navy spokesman, Lieutenant John Schofield, told the Globe in a prepared statement, adding that the "Department leadership is being notified" of the decision.

Raytheon's Missile Systems Division, in Tucson, responded in a statement of its own yesterday that "we are suspending work" on the munition program.

"Raytheon is waiting for official notification from the US Navy about the future of the program," the statement added.

The Navy awarded the original contract for the weapon in 1996 to Dallas- based Texas Instruments. In 1997, Raytheon bought TI's defense electronics component and acquired the contract to build 5-inch precision munitions.

Two years later, Raytheon moved the program to Arizona, home of its Missile Systems Division, where the company experienced workforce delays, according to a report by the Government Accountability Office.

The problems only continued. The weapons' Global Positioning System satellite guidance system failed to survive the thrust of being shot out of a shipboard gun. Ultimately, the target date for reaching "initial operational capability" was extended by a decade, from 2001 to 2011.

In the meantime, the estimated cost of the program also skyrocketed. By 2005, the GAO had estimated that the project had cost nearly $600 million, a more than 50 percent increase from the 1997 estimate. Each projectile, meanwhile, was estimated to have grown in price from $45,000 to $191,000.

The Navy considers "surface fire support" to be a critical mission but is now able to strike enemy ground forces with artillery shells launched from ships only about a dozen miles offshore, a far shorter distance than the Navy's stated requirement.

Raytheon has boasted that its munition would provide that "agile, accurate, continuous, and lethal naval fire support."

And as recently as 2006, the Naval Studies Board at the National Academy of Sciences still said that the Raytheon weapon typified what it called "the emerging technology of guided artillery shells."

But last September, the Pentagon's top weapons acquisition official, John Young, warned that time was running out for the project to prove itself.

"It is critical that the program demonstrate satisfactory progress toward achievement of reliability and technology readiness requirements," Young wrote in a Sept. 28 memorandum.

ATK, an advanced weapons company, is also vying to supply the Navy its own version of the weapon, called the Ballistic Trajectory Extended Range Munition. The Edina, Minn.-based company has also performed several tests but has been plagued by its own delays and technical busts. ATK also provided the rocket motor for the Raytheon program.

Bryan Bender can be reached at bender@globe.com.

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