Boeing Withdraws from Competition to Build New Land-Based Nuclear Missile

An unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile launches during a test.
An unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile launches during an operational test at 2:42 A.M. Pacific Time May 1, 2019, at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Aubree Milks)

Boeing Co. says it is out of the running against Northrop Grumman in the competition to develop the U.S. Air Force's Ground Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD) intercontinental ballistic missile system.

Roughly one week after the Air Force released its latest request for proposal for the engineering and manufacturing development (EMD) phase for the GBSD, Boeing said the service's acquisition approach favors its competitor.

"After numerous attempts to resolve concerns within the procurement process, Boeing has informed the Air Force that it will not bid Ground Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD) Engineering and Manufacturing Development (EMD) under the current acquisition approach," the company said in a statement Thursday. The news was first reported by Inside Defense.

"We've evaluated these issues extensively and determined that the current acquisition approach does not provide a level playing field for fair competition," according to the statement. "Boeing is proud to support the airmen who keep the ICBM system safe, secure and reliable and remains committed to their mission."

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In 2017, the Air Force awarded two contracts to Northrop and Boeing for preliminary work on the GBSD program to replace its Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile system. Known as the technology maturation and risk reduction phase, the two contracts were not to exceed $359 million each, the service said, though Boeing was awarded $349 million and Northrop received $328 million for the 36-month deal.

The EMD phase RFP was released July 16. The Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center was scheduled to award the contract in the fourth quarter of fiscal 2020, the service said in a news release.

Dr. Will Roper, assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, technology and logistics, in recent months has publicly discussed the good qualities of GBSD, particularly the way the program uses digital engineering to allow developers to see how to make the part before it is manufactured.

"I think new technologies like digital engineering allow us to change how production and design are done, and I think ... [digital engineering] will allow us to not raise the cost of sustainment for a very heterogeneous Air Force," he said in March during the annual McAleese & Associates conference.

"The quality of thinking and leveraging of digital modeling and engineering" has made the program better, Air Force Global Strike Commander Gen. Tim Ray told reporters during a Defense Writers Group breakfast in April.

"I will tell you that Dr. Roper believes that this is the best acquisition program," he said, adding the acquisition model could save "billions."

While the service was always going to down-select and choose a single company to manufacture the next-generation ICBM, Boeing's exit could affect the cost of the final contract.

Jamie Morin, previously head of the Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation office, in 2016 estimated the Pentagon could end up spending $85 billion to replace the U.S.' aging ICBMs. The Air Force puts the cost at $62 billion.

The service is responsible for two of the three legs of the nuclear triad -- land-launched nuclear missiles and aircraft with nuclear bombs and missiles. The third leg is submarine-launched nuclear missiles.

The Air Force expects to deploy GBSD in the late 2020s.

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

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