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The U.S Air Force has awarded Northrop Grumman Corporation a US$13.3bn contract to design and build a Ground Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD). This is part of a programme to replace its ageing MINUTEMAN III Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) system. The Air Force Nuclear Weapons Centre announced that the effort will span eight-and-a-half years to include weapon system design, qualification, test and evaluation in addition to nuclear certification. Upon successful completion of Engineering and Manufacturing Development (EMD), the Northrop Grumman team will begin producing and delivering a modern and fully integrated weapon system to meet the Air Force schedule of initial operational capability by 2029.

“Modernising the nuclear strategic triad is a top priority of our military,” Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper said in a statement. “It’s key to our nation’s defence. It provides that strategic nuclear deterrent that we depend on day after day — that we’ve depended on decade after decade.”

The U.S. military operates 400 nuclear ICBMs out of 450 silos across Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota, Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana and F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming.

“Our nation is facing a rapidly evolving threat environment and protecting our citizens with a modern strategic deterrent capability has never been more critical,” said Kathy Warden, Chairman, Chief Executive Officer and President, Northrop Grumman. “With more than 65 years of technical leadership on every ICBM system, our nationwide team is honoured and committed to continuing our partnership with the U.S. Air Force to deliver a safe, secure and effective system that will contribute to global stability for years to come.”

Renewal

The EMD award follows a highly successful three-year technology maturation and risk reduction (TMRR) phase-one effort under the GBSD competition. The Northrop Grumman team has demonstrated innovation and agility by applying a digital engineering approach and has achieved all TMRR design review milestones on time and on cost. The EMD phase will be performed at the Northrop Grumman GBSD facilities in Roy and Promontory, Utah, as well as other key Northrop Grumman sites across the U.S. that include, alongside others:

  • Huntsville and Montgomery, Alabama
  • Colorado Springs, Colorado
  • Bellevue, Nebraska
  • San Diego and Woodland Hills, California
  • Chandler, Arizona
  • Annapolis Junction, Maryland

The Northrop Grumman GBSD team includes:

  • Aerojet Rocketdyne
  • Bechtel
  • Clark Construction
  • Collins Aerospace
  • General Dynamics
  • HDT Global
  • Honeywell
  • Kratos Defense and Security Solutions
  • L3Harris
  • Lockheed Martin
  • Textron Systems,

This is in addition to hundreds of small and medium-sized companies from across the defence, engineering and construction industries.

Overall, the GBSD programme will involve over 10,000 people across the U.S. directly working on this vital national security programme. In 2017, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that the overhaul would cost US$1.2 trillion over 30 years, including the operation and maintenance of the existing nuclear arsenal while the new technology is introduced. In 2019, the CBO estimated that the Pentagon would spend US$61bn over the subsequent 10 years on modernisation of the ICBM fleet alone.

J C Menon