BREAKING: Northrop Grumman Lands $13 Billion Deal for New Nuclear Missiles

By Jon Harper

Northrop Grumman Image

Northrop Grumman has been awarded a $13.3 billion engineering and manufacturing development contract for the U.S. military’s next-generation intercontinental ballistic missile system, the Air Force announced Sept. 8.

The Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent, or GBSD, program aims to replace the aging Minuteman III nuclear-armed ICBMs that first became operational back in 1970. The legacy platforms have already undergone significant life-extension efforts in the intervening years.

The new GBSD will have more advanced capabilities than the systems deployed today, according to the Air Force.

“I am fully confident in the evolutionary warfighting effectiveness GBSD will ensure,” Gen. Tim Ray, commander of Air Force Global Strike Command, said in a press release. “We are leveraging stable requirements, modern technology, we own the technical baseline, and have a modular design to keep the program rapid, relevant and affordable. The increased accuracy, extended range and improved reliability will provide the United States a broader array of options to address unforeseen contingencies, giving us the edge necessary to compete and win against any adversary.”

The EMD phase of the program is expected to last eight-and-a-half years and include weapon system design, qualification, test and evaluation and nuclear certification. Upon successful completion, the Northrop Grumman team will begin producing and delivering a fully integrated weapon system, the company said in a press release.

“Our nation is facing a rapidly evolving threat environment and protecting our citizens with a modern strategic deterrent capability has never been more critical,” Kathy Warden, chairman, CEO and president of Northrop, said in a press release. “Our nationwide team is honored and committed to continuing our partnership with the U.S. Air Force to deliver a safe, secure and effective system that will contribute to global stability for years to come.”

The GBSD program is projected to be worth up to $85 billion. The Air Force hopes to have the next-generation weapon online in the late-2020s.

Ground-based ICBMs are one of three legs of the U.S. nuclear triad, which also consists of Air Force bombers and Navy ballistic missile submarines. The military currently has about 400 Minuteman III weapons deployed on U.S. soil.

Officials suggested the new systems will be able to be upgraded over time.

“Across the Department of the Air Force, we are looking for opportunities to inject innovation into programs to stay ahead of our adversaries,” Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics Will Roper said in the news release. “Our GBSD team is doing just that by leveraging a modular open system approach to ensure our next-generation ICBM system is adaptable to challenges posed by the pace of technological advancements and new threat environments.”

The GBSD contract award to Northrop Grumman was not unexpected. The company was the last remaining competitor for the program. Both Northrop and Boeing — the original manufacturer of the Minuteman III — were awarded contracts in 2017 for the technology maturation and risk reduction phase. However, Boeing dropped out of the race after its rival for the program acquired solid rocket motor manufacturer Orbital ATK— which was renamed Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems. Boeing did not submit a bid for the EMD phase of the program after the request for proposals was issued last year, leaving Northrop as the last competitor standing.

“Boeing supports the U.S. Air Force and its efforts to modernize the nation’s intercontinental ballistic missile force,” Boeing said in a statement after the EMD award to Northrop was announced. “We will continue working alongside airmen to keep the Minuteman ICBM mission-ready while delivering innovative solutions in support of strategic deterrence today and tomorrow.”

Northrop’s offering passed a preliminary design review in April.

The Northrop Grumman-led industry team tapped for the program includes major contractors such as Aerojet Rocketdyne, Bechtel, Clark Construction, Collins Aerospace, General Dynamics, HDT Global, Honeywell, Kratos Defense and Security Solutions, L3 Harris, Lockheed Martin and Textron Systems, plus hundreds of small and medium-sized companies from across the defense, engineering and construction industries. The project will involve over 10,000 workers, according to Northrop.

Supporters of the ICBM leg of the triad say it is critical for deterrence.

“The dispersed basing of the ground-based deterrent enhances strategic stability by creating an extraordinarily high threshold for a large-scale conventional or nuclear attack on the U.S. homeland,” the Air Force said in the press release.

Some politicians and arms control advocates have suggested the GBSD program will be too costly and should be scaled back or canceled.

The Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent is one of several U.S. nuclear modernization programs underway. Others include the B-21 Raider bomber, the Columbia-class submarine, a new air-launched cruise missile known as the Long-Range Stand Off Weapon, and other capabilities.

Topics: Missile Defense

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