The US Air Force (USAF) has issued a request for proposals for the Engineering and Manufacturing Development (EMD) phase of its ground-based strategic deterrent (GBSD) intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) weapon system programme.
The RFP includes five production lot options to produce and deploy the weapon system.
Boeing and Northrop Grumman are set to take part in the competition for the EMD contract.
These two companies are also contractors for GBSD’s ongoing Technology Maturation and Risk Reduction phase under which both firms received nearly $350m.
The EMD contract is anticipated to be awarded in the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2020.
The USAF’s Boeing LGM-30G Minuteman III ICBM first became operational in the mid-1960s. The service intends to replace the ageing platform with the GBSD.
The legacy platform has been maintained over the years through upgrades to some components and subsystems.
In May, US undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment Ellen Lord called for the purchase of advanced nuclear capability to maintain a deterrence edge.
Stating that keeping the existing Minuteman III ICBMs alive by continuous upgrades is not financially feasible, Lord emphasised the need to operationalise the new GBSD.
Lord said: “There is no margin to do another service-life extension programme on Minuteman III, because not only would it be more expensive than developing GBSD, but you would not have the resiliency in the capability because you would not have the modern equipment, you would not have the actual capabilities from a functional range point of view (or) warhead capability. So we need to, by 2028, start replacing (ICBMs).”
Her call to replace Minuteman III with the new weapon system is echoed by senior USAF leaders.
At a congressional committee hearing in April, USAF Chief of Staff general David Goldfein said: “If you look at the threat that we face, Russia just completed their modernisation of their triad this year…because they know they cannot defeat us, and certainly can’t defeat Nato, conventionally.
“So, our modernisation and recap of the triad is just in time because in the missile leg, key parts of that programme expire right about the time that we bring on the new GBSD to replace it.”
Air Force will start GBSD deployment in 2027. The weapon system is expected to remain in service through 2075.
Last week, Textron received a contract modification for the Minuteman III multiprobe antenna procurement.