Northrop Grumman vying for GBSB contract visits Great Falls; Tester challenges DoD on Minuteman funding

Two defense contractors are working on the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent system that will replace the current Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile system currently used by the Air Force.

The Minuteman system includes 450 launch silos spread across the missile fields of Malmstrom, Minot and F.E. Warren Air Force bases. Under the provisions of the New START arms control treaty with Russia, only 400 missiles are deployed at any given time and the other 50 silos are empty or, “warm status.”

In 2017, the Air Force awarded two contracts for the first phase of the GBSD program, the technology maturation and risk reduction phase. The contracts were awarded to Northrop Grumman and Boeing, valued at no more than $359 million each.

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

This phase is expected to be completed in 2020, according to the Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center.

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.

In early June, the Northrop Grumman team made another visit to Great Falls, this time meeting with the business community.

The team visited in February 2018.

Boeing has also made visits to the city.

Boeing team visits Great Falls while working on ICBM replacement program

Russ Anarde, Northrop’s corporate lead executive, said they were meeting with small businesses and prospective suppliers to see what’s available in the region so that if the company is selected, they’d be ready to start work immediately.

Anarde said they worked with the Great Falls Area Chamber of Commerce to get the word out to small businesses in the area for the event.

Air Force awards two contracts for Minuteman III ICBM replacement

He said that the company has an idea of the skills they’ll need for the project and can start qualifying businesses to be ready start work if Northrop is selected for the contract.

Once the contract is awarded, Anarde said he expects the pace of the project to quicken.

Northrop Grumman has also been in town to meet with community leaders about challenges and opportunities associated with the missile system replacement. During that visit, he team met with he 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.

Malmstrom construction underway to prepare for new helicopters

The GBSD project is expected to be an economic boom to the three missile base communities, through both contractors have been reluctant to offer any dollar figures yet.

According to the U.S. Defense Department’s Office of Economic Adjustment, $139.7 million was spent in Montana for defense contracts in fiscal year 2017. Of that, $60.5 million was spent in Cascade County. That same year, defense salary spending in Cascade County was $238.5 million.

The new system is planned for installation from 2028 to 2038, Northrop officials said last year, 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.

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.

Modernizing the existing triad in the meantime is also an expensive and ongoing effort that has new challenges this year.

In May, Sen. Jon Tester sent a letter to the Pentagon to raise issue with the Defense Department’s plan to reprogram $24 million from the Minuteman III modernization effort toward a border wall.

Montana projects on list of potential funding sources for border wall; but might not be affected under Pentagon criteria

According to the DoD reprogramming documents, the funds are available due to a slip in the production schedule to fiscal year 2020 for the launch control block upgrade program due to a late design changes to the journal memory loader and printer.

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

That means that those funds wouldn’t have been spend on the ICBM project this fiscal year. That’s something to watch in terms of whether the Air Force and Congress appropriate the funds in the next fiscal year.

In his letter, Tester wrote, “delaying this funding into the future will affect every launch control center in every missile field in America. And each day we defer the costs of modernizing our nuclear forces, our communities become less secure and we diminish our ability to deter nuclear threats from our adversaries. Undue delays in critical funding for the nuclear enterprise will leave the nation in dire need of modernization for all three legs of the triad, as well as out nuclear command and control capability.”

This week, Tester introduced an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act, limiting the White House from redirecting military dollars to the border wall.

The amendment would, according to Tester’s office:

  • limit the amount of funding a President can reallocate from the military construction budget under a national emergency declaration.
  • require the White House to provide additional notification and justification for the use of the armed forces in response to declared national emergencies.
  • require additional documentation and explanation of the costs and necessity of construction projects undertaken by the armed forces in response to declared national emergencies.

Tester has also challenged the DoD and the White House earlier this year over the possibility of using funds for Malmstrom’s new missile maintenance dispatch facility and the 120th Airlift Wing’s C-130 apron for the border wall.