(Reuters) - The success or failure of an upcoming U.S. missile defense test could affect when the Pentagon deploys 14 more ground-based interceptors to defend against possible missile threats from North Korea, a top U.S. official said Wednesday.
Peppino DeBiaso, director of missile defense policy at the Pentagon, told a conference hosted by the Brookings Institution and Union of Concerned Scientists that an intercept test of the Groundbased-Midcourse Defense (GMD) system was planned "shortly" but gave no further details about the timing.
The test of the system, which is managed by Boeing Co , and the Raytheon Co "kill vehicle" that it uses to destroy enemy targets, is planned for June 22, said two sources familiar with the plan, who are not authorized to speak about it publicly.
The Raytheon kill vehicle failed to separate from the rest of the ground-based interceptor (GDI) during the last intercept test in July 2013. This triggered a series of internal and external reviews, an investigation by the Pentagon inspector general, and a push by the Pentagon to start work on a new kill vehicle.
The Senate Armed Services Committee on Wednesday underscored its concern about the missile defense program in language attached to its annual defense authorization bill, and added $30 million in funding for maintenance and reliability improvements to the Pentagon's request of $1 billion for the GMD system.
DeBiaso said the Pentagon was committed to the new development effort, regardless of the test outcome.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, citing growing threats from North Korea and Iran, announced plans in March 2013 to add 14 interceptors to 30 already in place in Alaska and California.
DeBiaso said those plans remained firm, but another test failure could affect the timing for deploying the additional interceptors, which are due to be operational by the end of 2017. He said it could also affect efforts to retrofit and improve the reliability of the existing two models of kill vehicles, and development of a next-generation "kill vehicle."
"We're going to have to wait until we get to that point in order to determine exactly what the impact might be on the timing of getting those additional 14 in silos and (making them) operational systems," he said.
Cristina Chaplain, director of acquisition and sourcing management at the Government Accountability Office, told the conference that a test failure this month would be a "big setback" that could result in another year-long review.
In comments added to the Senate defense spending bill, Republican Senator James Inhofe said the funding added for better maintenance and reliability should send a "strong message" to the Pentagon about the need to routinely upgrade the system, much as it does nuclear weapons.
"It is time for us to accord the same level of commitment to the GMD system that we provide our nuclear strategic systems," he said. (Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Richard Chang)