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Pentagon Chooses Boeing Co. to Develop Defense Systems

By Bradley Graham
The Washington Post

Pentagon officials selected the Boeing Co. of Seattle Thursday to coordinate development of a system for defending the United States against ballistic missile attack, a legacy of the "Star Wars" plan envisioned by President Ronald Reagan 15 years ago. The action effectively relieves the Pentagon of some of the burden of assembling the complex and controversial weapons system. But Boeing faces many of the same technological and political obstacles that have crippled the antimissile effort for years and have contributed to a bill of about $50 billion since Reagan announced his Strategic Defense Initiative.

The decision was a blow to Lockheed Martin Corp. of Bethesda, which had formed a joint venture with Raytheon Co. and TRW Inc. to compete against Boeing for the contract, which is worth up to $5.2 billion. Lockheed and its partners in the United Missile Defense Co. (UMDC) of Arlington had been widely favored to win because of greater experience in the missile defense field, although Lockheed has had recent problems developing a shorter-range antimissile system for the Army.

Announcing the selection, Lt. Gen. Lester Lyles said Lockheed's difficulties with the Army's Theater High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system were not a major factor. More important, he said, were technical, managerial and cost considerations relating to the proposals submitted by both bidders. He declined to elaborate until he could brief the firms on details of the decision.

"We're extremely disappointed, kind of shocked really," said Bill Loomis, president of UMDC. "We figured we had the past experience to play upon and worked very hard on our proposal."

Under pressure from congressional Republicans who have made missile defense a top priority, the Clinton administration has vowed to put more money and effort into designing a workable antimissile system. But questions persist about the project's cost, effectiveness and international treaty repercussions.

The current plan is considerably more modest than the space-based arsenal intended to guard the United States against massive nuclear attack. The focus now is on designing a predominately ground-based defense against a few missiles launched either intentionally from an outlaw nation such as North Korea or Libya or accidentally from Russia or China.

Whether that systems actually is fielded remains a subject of much dispute between the administration and congressional Republicans. The administration is resolved to develop a system by 2000 that could be deployed by 2003, but has put off any deployment decision until development is complete.