Northrop Grumman lands $13 billion contract for new nuclear missile system

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BREAKING: Northrop Grumman lands $13 billion deal for new nuclear missiles

Image by Northrop Grumman

Northrop Grumman has won a $13.3 billion engineering and manufacturing development contract for the U.S. Army’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-powered ICBMs that first became operational in 1970. Legacy platforms have already seen significant efforts to extend their life in the years that followed.

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

“I have full confidence in the scalable warfare effectiveness that GBSD will deliver,” said Gen. Tim Ray, commander of Air Force Global Strike Command, in a press release. “We leverage stable requirements, modern technology, own the technical foundation and have a modular design to keep the program fast, relevant and affordable. The increased accuracy, extended range, and improved reliability will provide the United States with a wider array of options to deal with the unexpected, giving us the edge needed to compete and win against any opponent.

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. If successful, the Northrop Grumman team will begin producing and delivering a fully integrated weapon system, the company said in a press release.

“Our nation faces a rapidly changing threat environment and protecting our citizens with a modern strategic deterrent capability has never been more critical,” said Kathy Warden, chief executive officer and president of Northrop, in a statement. Press. “Our National Team is honored and committed to continuing our partnership with the United States Air Force to provide a safe, secure, and efficient system that will contribute to global stability for years to come.”

The GBSD program is expected to be worth up to $85 billion. The Air Force hopes to have the next-generation weapon online by the end of the 2020s.

Ground-based ICBMs are one of three arms of the US nuclear triad, which also includes Air Force bombers and Navy ballistic missile submarines. The military currently has approximately 400 Minuteman III weapons deployed on US soil.

Officials have suggested that new systems can be upgraded over time.

“Throughout the Air Force Department, we seek opportunities to inject innovation into programs to stay ahead of our adversaries,” the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force said. Air Force for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Will Roper in the press 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 the challenges posed by the pace of technological advancements and new threat environments.”

The awarding of the GBSD contract to Northrop Grumman was not unexpected. The company was the last remaining competitor for the program. Northrop and Boeing – the original manufacturer of the Minuteman III – both won 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 engine maker Orbital ATK, which was renamed Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems. Boeing did not submit a bid for the EMD phase of the program after issuing the request for proposals last year, leaving Northrop as the final contender.

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

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

The industrial team led by Northrop Grumman and contracted 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 defense, engineering and construction companies. The project will involve more than 10,000 workers, according to Northrop.

Proponents of the ICBM branch of the triad say this is essential for deterrence.

“The dispersed base of ground deterrence enhances strategic stability by creating an extraordinarily high threshold for a full-scale conventional or nuclear attack on U.S. territory,” the Air Force said in the press release.

Some politicians and arms control advocates have suggested that the GBSD program would be too expensive and should be scaled back or canceled.

Ground-based strategic deterrence is one of many ongoing US nuclear modernization programs. Others include the B-21 Raider bomber, the Columbia-class submarine, a new air-launched cruise missile known as the Long-Range Ranged Weapon, and other capabilities.

Topics: Missile Defense

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