Missile Agency Guards Against Counterfeit Parts

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.” 

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs) 

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