Air Force seeks new ICBM technologies

The service calls for studies to explore new command and control systems, and advanced missile hardware and parts.

As the Air Force’s missile systems continue to age, the military is looking to upgrade intercontinental ballistic missile technologies, with an eye toward open systems, modular designs and standardized interfaces.

The Air Force released a Broad Agency Announcement this week calling for new technologies applicable to the ICBM weapon system. The BAA focuses primarily on ground-based strategic deterrence, meaning that the studies will be applicable to the creating hardware and components based on Minuteman III specifications.

U.S. nuclear forces center on what is called the “nuclear triad,” which refers to the delivery method of nuclear weapons—missiles, submarines, or bombers. The Air Force’s Minuteman III missiles make up the missile portion of the triad. There are about 450 of the missiles based in underground silos across North Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado and Nebraska, reports Defense One. First deployed in 1970, the Minuteman III is expected to stay in service until 2030.

The BAA is looking at 11 studies to evaluate new designs and technologies. Some highlights include:

ICBM Nuclear Command and Control Applications. The BAA calls for a 12-month study to document the current state of the ICBM command and control system, and a second study that will exploit state-of-the-art communications by identifying future technologies to meet current and future needs.

Guidance Instrumentation Flight Test Safety Systems. The Air Force is looking to upgrade its Flight Safety System/Range Tracking system by incorporating them with instrumentation and telemetry systems into the future guidance set wafer.

Strategic Thrust Vector Control System. The announcement is looking to develop an open architecture thrust vector system for a three-stage, medium-class, ICBM launch vehicle that can be used across all three stages.

Additional studies focus on developing propulsion and thermal protection systems, adapting multiple independent reentry vehicle capabilities into the Minuteman III, increasing penetration capabilities, improving battery designs, designing advanced ordnance initiation systems and safeties, examining the possible use of a Trajectory Correcting Vehicle or a Trajectory Shaping Vehicles, and improving missile stage separations.

The BAA emphasizes the use of an open systems approach to procuring new technologies for the missiles.

“As part of this program, the contractor shall define, document, and follow an open systems approach for using modular design, standards based interfaces, and widely-supported consensus-based standards,” the Air Force said. “The contractor shall develop, maintain, and use an open system management plan to support this approach and will be required to demonstrate compliance with that plan during all design reviews.”

The final response date for the announcement is Sept. 20, 2014.

RAND report released in February found that incrementally modernizing the Minuteman III is a more cost-effective alternative to developing a new system. The study found that a new system would likely cost twice as much as incremental sustainment, meaning that the argument for developing a new alternative would primarily be the changing capabilities and threats.