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Northrop, Boeing Win Initial Deal to Replace Land-Based Nuclear ICBMs

The Air Force has awarded two contracts for its Ground Based Strategic Deterrent program to replace its Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile system.

Northrop Grumman Corp. and Boeing Co. have received the ICBM replacement contracts for technology maturation and risk reduction, the service said in an announcement on Monday.

The two contracts are not to exceed $359 million each, the service said, though Boeing was awarded a $349 million agreement and Northrop received a $328 million deal.

Lockheed Martin Corp., the world's largest defense contractor, was also in the running for the competition announced last year. The Air Force opted to down-select from three companies to two for the next phase of the program.

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After the 36-month risk reduction phase, a single company will be chosen for the engineering and manufacturing development in 2020.

"We are moving forward with modernization of the ground-based leg of the nuclear triad," said Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said. "Our missiles were built in the 1970s. Things just wear out, and it becomes more expensive to maintain them than to replace them. We need to cost-effectively modernize," she said in the release.

"As others have stated, the only thing more expensive than deterrence is fighting a war. The Minuteman III is 45 years old. It is time to upgrade," added Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein.  

The Air Force is responsible for two out of the three legs of the nuclear triad. It expects to deploy GBSD in the late 2020s.

Northrop and Boeing were selected because the defense companies are determined “to provide the best overall value to the warfighter and taxpayers based on the source selection's evaluation factors,” which are their technical approach, technical risk and cost/price, Air Force officials said.

Boeing will perform majority of the TMRR’s program work in its Huntsville, Alabama facility, while Northrop will use Redondo Beach, California, as its facility.

For the GBSD acquisition program, the service’s Nuclear Weapons Center will also be “focused on developing and delivering an integrated GBSD weapon system, including launch and command-and-control segments,” the announcement said.  

Officials have noted that GBSD is meant to be more modular and technically advanced, and more readily adaptable to challenges posed by hostile adversaries.

The first contract awards come at a time when the Defense Department is conducting the Nuclear Posture Review, designed to determine what role nuclear weapons should play in U.S. security strategy — and how many should be in the arsenal.

Additionally, the GBSD news precedes the Air Force’s anticipated announcement for the Long Range Standoff Weapon, or LRSO -- a nuclear-capable cruise missile to be launched from aircraft such as the B-52 Stratofortress.

The LRSO program would replace the AGM-86B Air Launched Cruise Missile, and a contract is expected to be announced  this year.

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