The US Air Force (USAF) has awarded two separate contracts, totalling $718m, to Boeing and Northrop Grumman Systems to develop preliminary designs for the country’s next intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).
The two Technology Maturation and Risk Reduction contracts were awarded as the USAF seeks to replace its ageing LGM-30 Minuteman III ICBM with a new ground-based strategic deterrent (GBSD) ICBM weapon system.
The ICBM is the new land-based element of America’s nuclear triad, which also includes other elements such as missiles launched from submarines and aircraft.
The Minuteman III replacement effort will include flight, command and control, as well as launch systems, Boeing stated.
USAF 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 modernise.”
First deployed in the early-1970s, the Minuteman III has been improved over the years. However, most of the fundamental infrastructure in use today is the original equipment supporting more than 50 years of continuous operation.
Air Force Global Strike Command commander general Robin Rand said: “The Minuteman III is the enduring ground-based leg of our nuclear triad, however, it is an ageing platform and requires major investments to maintain its reliability and effectiveness.
“GBSD is the most cost-effective ICBM replacement strategy, leveraging existing infrastructure while also implementing mature, modern technologies and more efficient operations, maintenance and security concepts.”
In 2020, the airforce will choose either Boeing or Northrop to develop the Minuteman III replacement and award the engineering and manufacturing development phase of the programme to the selected company.
Image: Northrop Grumman and Boeing have been contracted to execute the Technology Maturation and Risk Reduction (TMRR) phase of the GBSD programme. Photo: courtesy of Northrop Grumman Corporation.