The US Air Force (USAF) has awarded two contracts, totalling $157m, to Lockheed Martin Space Systems and Rockwell Collins to upgrade the intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) airborne launch control system (ALCS).
The US military’s existing ALCS capability for the Minuteman III is currently provided through 1960s-built radio equipment at each of 450 ICBM launch facilities in the country. It also has ageing equipment on the Navy’s E-6B Mercury aircraft.
The ALCS replacement (ALCS-R) programme seeks to develop an alternative system that will allow an aircraft to control the launch of both the current Minuteman III and future Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD) ICBMs, even if ground-based facilities are destroyed.
The three-year contracts have been awarded by the Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center and mark the beginning of a design competition for upgrading the nuclear command and control mission system.
Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center ICBM Systems director colonel Scott Jones said: “The Airborne Launch Control System provides the strategic capability of survivable airborne command and control for the airforce’s fleet of ICBMs.
“The new system will be a timely replacement of the legacy system and provide continued ICBM airborne command and control capability through 2075.”
The upgraded replacement system is expected to be fielded by 2024.
The Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center is responsible for synchronising all aspects of nuclear material management on behalf of Air Force Materiel Command in direct support of Air Force Global Strike Command.
Image: Airforce captain Greg Carter launches a simulated Minuteman III missile aboard a US Navy E-6B Mercury. Photo: courtesy of USAF photo by airman first class Keifer Bowes.