Northrop Grumman team visits Great Falls to talk about missile replacement program

One of the two defense contractors selected to mature the follow on missile weapons system was in Great Falls this week meeting with community leaders about challenges and opportunities associated with the missile system replacement.

In August, the Air Force awarded two contracts for the first phase of the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent, which will replace the aging Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile system. The contracts have been awarded for the technology maturation and risk reduction phase to Boeing and Northrop Grumman Systems Corporation.

The contracts, valued at no more than $359 million each, were awarded through open competition, this phase is expected to be completed in 2020, according to the Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center.

Air Force awards two contracts for Minuteman III ICBM replacement

Carol Erikson, Northrop Grumman’s vice president for GBSD, said the company has been involved in ICBMs since the beginning and is the lead on sustainment and maintenance of the current system.

“Deterrence is in our DNA,” she said.

On Tuesday, Erikson met with local leaders from the Great Falls Area Chamber of Commerce, Montana Defense Alliance, Great Falls College MSU, City of Great Falls, Cascade County and representatives from other missile counties.

The first phase of the GBSD program is working with the Air Force to reduce costs while still meeting the military’s deterrence needs, Erikson said.

At the end of this phase, the Air Force will select a single contractor for the engineering and manufacturing of the GBSD system that will replace the Minuteman III ICBM system currently in place, including the silos and launch control facilities in the Malmstrom Air Force Base missile complex.

Defense bill includes specifications for ICBM deployment levels, requirements for GBSD system

It’s early in the process, but Erikson said the company was working to communicate with local missile communities to understand local challenges and the potential opportunities. Some of those challenges could be availability of a local workforce, contractors, materials and housing. Opportunities might be training programs through the colleges and schools.

David Weissman of the Montana Defense Alliance said that identifying potential pitfalls, like housing availability, early on will allow the community and the contractor to plan for those issues.

Other issues might include electricity and access around farm properties.

“I think this communication piece is priceless,” Weissman said. “The more everybody communicates, the easier it will be for everybody to make the transition.”

Though it’s early, Erikson said the replacement program will have a major and extended impact on the community.

The new system is planned for installation from 2028 to 2038, Erikson said, and the Air Force expects the GBSD system to last through 2075.

GBSD will include a new command and control system and new facilities for the new missiles. The Air Force has asked that contractors develop a flexible system that can adapt to new threats and integrate new technology while also providing maximum security.

“The Air Force has given contractors the trade space to develop the optimal system,” Erickson said.

They’re working to develop a comprehensive system, Erikson said, since the more you break it into pieces, the more entry points there are for an adversary.

Whether the U.S. needs to maintain a nuclear triad is an ongoing discussion among civilian and defense officials, but so far, the Air Force is moving forward with modernizing the land based leg of the triad, which also includes nuclear bombers and submarines.

“Northrop Grumman supports the importance of the triad to the nation,” Erikson said. “But ultimately we support the Air Force.”