By Mike Stone
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Raytheon Technologies Co and Northrop Grumman Corp have won U.S. contracts to continue developing missiles to intercept hypersonic weapons, the Pentagon said on Friday.
The decision means Lockheed Martin Co., the No. 1 U.S. defense contractor, which had also been competing for a contract, has been eliminated for now from the multibillion dollar progam, but could be pulled back in at a later date.
In November, the three companies were awarded separate contracts totaling about $60 million to develop an interceptor guided by a constellation of satellites and sensors to intercept a hypersonic missile inside Earth’s atmosphere as it glides towards its target.
The contracts will reduce the number of companies developing the systems to just two.
As with any defense contract, companies that did not win have the right to protest the decision.
The Missile Defense Agency (MDA) awarded a contract of up to $62 million to Raytheon and up to $60 million to Northrup for each company to continue developing hypersonic weapon interceptors.
Hypersonic weapons are capable of flight at speeds five times the speed of sound, and can maneuver mid-flight, which makes tracking them difficult.
A recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report said MDA’s internal cost estimates for an interceptor system ranged from $3.7 billion-$4.2 billion with accelerated funding.
Congress’ 2023 draft defense budget includes funds to accelerate the development of the program, but that bill has not yet been finalized.
The GAO report recommended that the MDA get independent cost and technology assessments for the interceptor.
(Reporting by Mike Stone in Washington; Editing by Deepa Babington and Alistair Bell)