Missile Agency Guards Against Counterfeit Parts
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Nov. 8, 2011 The Missile Defense Agency is working to detect and prevent the use of unauthorized or defective parts that could undermine the effectiveness of the nation’s ballistic missile defense system, Army Lt. Gen. Patrick J. O’Reilly, the agency’s director, told Congress today.
The ballistic missile defense system is one of the most complex systems being developed by the Defense Department, O’Reilly told the Senate Armed Services Committee. The agency integrates advanced sensor, fire control, battle management and interceptor systems, with parts, materials, assembles and subassemblies provided by more than 3,000 suppliers.
But this system -- designed to provide a reliable, continuously available defense to the U.S. homeland, deployed forces, allies and friends against a variety of regional ballistic missiles -- is only as good as its least reliable component, O’Reilly said.
“The predominant threat of counterfeit parts in missile defense systems is reduced reliability of a major DOD weapon system,” the general said in his written testimony. “We do not want to be in a position where the reliability of a $12 million [Theater High-Altitude Area Defense] interceptor is destroyed by a $2 part.”
Counterfeit parts, whether defective or simply unauthorized, can have a significant operational impact, O’Reilly warned. Some parts may be used and resold as new. Others might be labeled as military-compliant when they’re really just commercial versions of the part that don’t meet rigorous DOD standards. And because counterfeiters are becoming increasingly sophisticated, counterfeit electronic parts might even disable or steal critical information from the systems in which they’re embedded.
“A simple change in material, an improper technique in material application or a lack of cleanliness during manufacturing can result in a loss of quality and, hence, a loss of system reliability,” O’Reilly told the panel.
Since 2006, the Missile Defense Agency has identified seven incidents of counterfeit parts involving six assemblies, O’Reilly reported. These cases, which involved about 1,300 parts procured from unauthorized distributors, were identified through the agency’s rigorous quality assurance process.
Tremendous attention to detail goes into this process to ensure all piece parts of missile defense assemblies are able to “perform flawlessly when needed,” O’Reilly said.
To prevent counterfeit parts from being introduced into the system, the agency uses a multi-pronged monitoring, inspecting and testing program while also working with other DOD and interagency offices to address the problem, the general said.
One of the most significant steps taken, he said, has been a new requirement in MDA contracts to provide the pedigree of every single mission-critical part used in the ballistic missile defense system.
“To date, MDA has no indication that any mission-critical hardware in the fielded [ballistic missile defense system] contains counterfeit parts,” O’Reilly reported.
In the event that such parts were to be identified, the cost of disassembling the systems to recover them could run into the hundreds of millions of dollars, he said. But the true cost, he said, actually would run much higher.
“Aside from the financial impacts, the greatest potential impact of counterfeit parts is the operational cost of an interceptor that does not perform as designed when it is needed,” he said.
O’Reilly called this “a cost that could be measured in lives lost or the negative impacts on foreign policy and national security strategy.”