US Air Force Hires Two Firms to Start Developing America’s Next ICBM

By Marcus Weisgerber

August 21, 2017

The Trump administration placed orders with two major defense firms on Monday to start working on technology for new intercontinental ballistic missiles to replace the Cold War-era Minuteman III.

The deals come amid nuclear threats against the U.S. by North Korea and increased tension with Russia, which is upgrading its ICBMs.

Things just wear out, and it becomes more expensive to maintain them than to replace them,” Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said in a statement. “We need to cost-effectively modernize."

The Air Force chose Boeing, builder of the Minuteman III, and Northrop Grumman to work on the technology that will be part of the military’s new ICBM. The Pentagon is expected to choose one of the two companies to build more than 400 of the missiles, part of a project called Ground Based Strategic Deterrent.

Boeing, which has had a close relationship with the Trump White House, touted jobs, saying it would work on the new ICBM in Huntsville, Alabama; Ogden, Utah; Heath, Ohio; and “other locations.” Northrop did not disclose where it would work on the project, however the Pentagon contract announcement said the work would be done in Redondo Beach, California.

We look forward to the opportunity to provide the nation with a modern strategic deterrent system that is secure, resilient and affordable,” Wes Bush, firm’s chairman, chief executive officer and president, said in a statement.

Under the deal, Boeing will receive $349 million; Northrop, $329 million. An Air Force spokeswoman did not respond to questions as to why the contracts were of different values.

The Air Force solicited bids for the new ICBMs last summer. Only Lockheed Martin’s bid was rejected.

"We are disappointed with the outcome of the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent competition, and we look forward to a debrief about the selection with the Air Force," the company said in an emailed statement. "We are confident our proposal delivered an affordable GBSD solution that meets all mission requirements. We remain fully committed to supporting the Air Force on our existing strategic deterrence programs."

The military is in the early stages of a sweeping overhaul of its nuclear arsenal. It’s buying new stealth bombers, nuclear submarines, cruise missiles, and ICBMs. The total price tag over the coming decades could top $1.5 trillion, the Arms Control Association warned last week.

Just seven days after taking office, Trump launched a nuclear posture review “to ensure that the United States nuclear deterrent is modern, robust, flexible, resilient, ready, and appropriately tailored to deter 21st-century threats and reassure our allies.” That review is still underway.

The Air Force is expected to choose companies to do similar work on a new nuclear cruise missile.

By Marcus Weisgerber // Marcus Weisgerber is the global business editor for Defense One, where he writes about the intersection of business and national security. He has been covering defense and national security issues for more than a decade, previously as Pentagon correspondent for Defense News and chief editor of Inside the Air Force. He has reported from Afghanistan, the Middle East, Europe, and Asia, and often travels with the defense secretary and other senior military officials.

August 21, 2017