Jeffrey LewisNFIRE May Carry Kill Vehicle After All

MDA may delay the June 2006 launch of the Near Field Infrared Experiment (NFIRE) to add a classified payload—a payload that sounds suspiciously like the kill vehicle MDA promised to remove.

The Washington AeroSpace Briefing (“NFIRE Tea Leaves” WAB 2:34, 3 May 2005) lays it down:

Air Force Lt. Gen. Henry “Trey” Obering, head of the Missile Defense Agency (MDA), told an audience of about 100 people at a National Defense University Foundation breakfast April 28 the launch of NFIRE would not take place until 2007 or 2008. He also appeared to imply that a controversial kill vehicle payload that was canceled last summer due to technical risk could be reinstated.


Officials at MDA set the record straight after the general’s speech, saying he “misspoke.” Nevertheless, it appears there is a new payload being considered for NFIRE, one which—as they say at the Pentagon—can’t be discussed.

“Our [launch] date remains June 2006. We are considering an added payload that may extend the [launch] date if we choose to carry it,” said one official familiar with the program. The official added that the new payload was not related to the kinetic kill vehicle.

According to Pentagon charts dated March 5, NFIRE should launch in June 2006. Another page in those same charts notes that the kill vehicle has been removed, citing an independent review team which “concluded that inclusion of kill vehicle increased NFIRE’s overall technical risk.” [snip]

The next sentence in those charts says that putting the kill vehicle back on would add $45 million to $50 million and would delay the scheduled launch date.

That’s what it sounded like Gen. Obering was referring to at the breakfast, but we don’t know if that’s what he wants to do or if it just got all scrambled up, like the eggs served at the breakfast.

CDI’s Victoria Samson attended also attended the Obering briefing. She was kind enough to send me her notes and confirm that Obering said “the ‘kill vehicle’ [had been] taken off earlier, might reappear.”

Oh yeah: Why does WAB encrypt documents to prevent editing, copying, etc.? Apparently, they’ve never heard of Elcomsoft.