As reported by Reuters, the U.S. Missile Defense Agency is expected to award Northrop Grumman two contracts totaling $2.5 billion over the next 14 months for a kinetic energy interceptor. This is a prototype, high-speed rocket designed to knock out enemy missiles in their boost phase. The first contract, to be awarded this fall, and totaling approximately $1.5 billion, covers the costs of restructuring and stretching out the project. The second, to be awarded by Sept. 30, 2007, will total approximately $1 billion and add the capability to shoot down targets in the middle of their flight paths.

A KEI battery comprises a mobile launcher, an interceptor and a battle management and communication system housed in a transportable trailer. It would be deployable anywhere in the world using U.S. military aircraft. Initially a land-based defensive capability, KEI is being built for swift transition to sea-based platforms.

The Missile Defense Agency plans to demonstrate the booster capabilities of the kinetic energy interceptor, or KEI, in the fourth quarter of fiscal 2008 in a test that may decide whether to continue or to kill the project, as an add-on to the fledgling U.S. missile defense shield.

The KEI interceptor contrasts with the ground-based mid-course defense (GMD), developed by Boeing that at present forms the backbone of the U.S. missile shield and requires fixed silos for anti-missile missiles.

The project backs up Boeing's airborne laser, a directed energy system aboard a modified 747 airliner, also aimed at thwarting ballistic missiles shortly after they are launched, which is when they are most vulnerable. Likewise, the airborne laser is scheduled for a 2008 intercept test that will help decide whether it survives.

Northrop Grumman Mission Systems of Reston, Virginia., is the prime contractor for the KEI effort under a six-year, $4.5 billion deal awarded in December 2003.