GBSD missile program progressing

The Air Force reviewed Northrop Grumman’s preliminary design for the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent in late April, advancing the program toward its next milestone and acquisition phase.

The GBSD intercontinental ballistic missile will modernize or replace the current Minuteman III ICBM’s systems in use at Malmstrom Air Force Base, as well as F.E. Warren AFB in Wyoming and Minot AFB in North Dakota, for command and control, launch and flight, according to a release from the Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center.

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The preliminary design review assesses the maturity of the preliminary design under the Defense Acquisition System.

“The PDR ensured Northrop Grumman’s design is sufficiently mature and ready to proceed into detailed design with acceptable risk, and will meet performance requirements within budget and on schedule,” Col. Jason Bartolomei, GBSD system program manager, said in a release.

The design review was conducted in secure virtual environments at 19 locations across the U.S. with more than 25 government organizations.

“Accomplishing this PDR is a huge success for the program, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Bartolomei said in the release. “The GBSD team overcame many challenges to accomplish such a large, complex PDR for an Acquisition Category 1-D program.”

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The GBSD program is in the Technology and Maturation Risk Reduction phase and the Air Force anticipates receiving DoD approval to enter Milestone B later this year and awarding the contract for the Engineering and Manufacturing Development phase before the end of the fiscal year, according to the release.

The EMD phase will conclude with the development, test and evaluation of the GBSD system, before it proceeds into the Production and Deployment phase. Deployment of the new ICBM is planned to begin in the late 2020s and span about nine years, according to the AFNWC.

Last summer, Boeing announced that it will not bid for the GBSD engineering and manufacturing development phase of the project.

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The Air Force awarded two contracts in 2017, one to Boeing and one to Northrop Grumman Systems Corporation for the technology maturation and risk reduction phase. This phase is scheduled to last about 36 months and then the Air Force will select a single contractor for the engineering and development phase.

Boeing’s contract for this phase is $349 million. Northrop’s is $328 million.

The GBSD program office is located at Hill Air Force Base in Utah and is part of the AFNWC, headquartered at Kirtland AFB, New Mexico.

The AFNWC is restructuring and the center’s former ICBM Systems Directorate at Hill divided into two new directorates, the Minuteman III Systems Directorate and the GBSD Systems Directorate.

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“This restructuring is a natural progression of the Air Force’s increasing focus on the modernization of the ICBM, the third leg of our strategic nuclear triad,” Maj. Gen. Shaun Morris, AFNWC commander and Air Force program executive officer for strategic systems, said in a release. “It also allows us to centralize some functional requirements, such as manpower and security, at a central operating location at Hill AFB, thus freeing up our subject matter experts to better focus on both sustaining the Minuteman III and acquiring the new GBSD weapon system.”

The new Minuteman III Systems Directorate will be led by Col. Luke Cropsey, who is currently the ICBM Systems director.

“Minuteman III is celebrating 50 years of continuous 24/7 on-alert duty this year. The dedication and grit of our workforce is the lynch pin in sustaining the Minuteman III and ensuring the weapon system remains operational through the deployment of GBSD,” Cropsey said in a release. “The handoff between Minuteman III and GBSD is the most complex ever undertaken between two nuclear weapon systems.

The new GBSD Systems Directorate will be led by Bartolomei, who is currently the system program manager for GBSD and will remain dual-hatted in that role, according to a release.

“GBSD will ensure uninterrupted deterrence against current and future adversaries through 2075. At the same time, it will provide more efficient operations, maintenance and security by modernizing a critically-aged infrastructure and lowering lifecycle costs,” Bartolomei said.