Air Force awards two contracts for Minuteman III ICBM replacement

Two contracts have been awarded for the technology maturation and risk reduction phase of the ground based strategic deterrent intercontinental ballistic missile weapon system.

Those contracts have been awarded to Boeing and Northrop Grumman Systems Corporation. The Air Force made the announcement Monday afternoon.

Two contracts, valued at no more than $359 million each, were awarded after a full and open competition. The companies selected were determined to provide the best overall value to the warfighter and taxpayers based on the source selection’s evaluation factors, according to a release from the Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center. This phase of the process is about 36 months.

The contract for the engineering and development phase of the GBSD program will be awarded in 2020, according to Boeing.

Boeing said it’s contract was $349 million and Boeing’s work will be done in Huntsville, Ala.; Ogden, Utah; Heath, Ohio; and other locations.

Northrup Grumman said it’s contract was $328 million.

GBSD will replace the Minuteman III ICBM system currently in use at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Great Falls and F.E. Warren in Wyoming and Minot in North Dakota.

Right now, 400 missiles are deployed across those three missile complexes, though 450 silos still exist. The recent reduction is part of New START, a nuclear arms reduction treaty between the U.S. and Russia.

Lockheed Martin also submitted a bid but was not selected for this first phase of the GBSD development.

“We are moving forward with modernization of the ground-based leg of the nuclear triad,” Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson said in a release. “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 modernize.”

The Minuteman III became operational in the early 1970s. Some components and subsystems have been upgraded over the years, but most of the fundamental infrastructure in use today is the original equipment supporting more than 50 years of continuous operation.

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“Airmen must always be ready in this no-fail mission,” Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. Dave Goldfein said. “As others have stated, the only thing more expensive than deterrence is fighting a war. The Minuteman III is 45 years old. It is time to upgrade.”

The aging Minuteman III system will continue to face increasingly significant operational and sustainment challenges until replaced. Airmen at Malmstrom have said they have to reverse engineer parts to maintain the missile system since some of the parts are no longer manufactured.

“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,” said Gen. Robin Rand, commander of Air Force Global Strike Command.

The AFNWC at Kirtland AFB in New Mexico is leading the GBSD acquisition effort and is focused on developing and delivering an integrated GBSD weapon system, including launch and command-and-control segments.

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GBSDis expected to meet current requirements while having the adaptability to meet changing technology and emerging threats through 2075, according to Maj. Gen. Scott Jansson, AWNC commander and the Air Force program executive officer for strategic systems.

For the GBSD acquisition effort, the AFNWC is focused on developing and delivering an integrated GBSD weapon system, including launch and command-and-control segments.

The contractors will pursue a modular system allowing for continued competition throughout the lifecycle of the program. Using a modular design means that to meet changing needs in the future, the Air Force could update components individually and independent of the rest of the system. That allows the Air Force to compete that work in the future, keeping costs lower over time since no one company owns the design.

“Over the last year, we have executed a thorough and fair source selection while also putting in place the tools, infrastructure and analytic capability to execute the GBSD program,” said Col. Heath Collins, GBSD program manager for AFNWC. “We are ready, excited and honored to begin working with our industry partners to develop and deliver an affordable, low-risk ICBM replacement, guaranteeing uninterrupted nuclear deterrence capabilities for the nation.”

The GBSD program office is part of AFNWC’s ICBM Systems Directorate at Hill AFB in Utah. The center is responsible for synchronizing all aspects of nuclear materiel management on behalf of Air Force Materiel Command in direct support of AFGSC. The center is headquartered at Kirtland and has about 1,100 personnel assigned to 17 locations worldwide, including a small contingent at Malmstrom.