The Buzz

Northrop Grumman and Boeing Have Plans to Turbocharge America's Nuclear ICBMs

The new ICBMs will be deployed roughly within the same geographical expanse in which the current weapons are stationed. In total, dispersed areas across three different sites span 33,600 miles, including missiles in Cheyenne, Wyoming, Minot, North Dakota and Great Falls, Montana. The Air Force plans to award the single EMD contract in late fiscal year 2020.

The Air Force plans to fire off new prototype ICBMs in the early 2020s as part of a long-range plan to engineer and deploy next-generation, high-tech intercontinental ballistic missiles with improved range, durability, targeting technology and overall lethality, service officials said.

The service is already making initial technological progress on design work and “systems engineering” for a new arsenal of ICBMs to serve well into the 2070s – called Ground Based Strategic Deterrent, or GBSD.

Northrop Grumman and Boeing teams were recently awarded Technology Maturation and Risk Reduction deals from the Air Force as part of a longer-term developmental trajectory aimed at developing, testing, firing and ultimately deploying new ICBMs.

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Overall, the Air Force plans to build as many as 400 new GBSD weapons to modernize the arsenal and replace the 1970s-era Boeing-built Minuteman IIIs.

The new weapons will be engineered with improved guidance technology, boosters, flight systems and command and control systems, compared to the existing Minuteman III missiles. The weapon will also have upgraded circuitry and be built with a mind to long-term maintenance and sustainability, developers said.

Initial subsystem prototypes are included within the scope of the current Boeing and Northrop deals, Col. Heath Collins, System Program Manager, GBSD, told Scout Warrior in an interview.

“Over the next three years, the GBSD prime contractors will develop and test those prototypes to demonstrate technical and integration design maturity.  In the end, these prototypes will burn down risk early to ensure successful execution of the next acquisition phase,” Collins said.

Following this initial 3-year developmental phase, the Air Force plan an Engineering and Manufacturing Development phase and eventual deployment.

Much attention has been focused on nuclear deterrence and the need for the US to modernize its arsenal, particularly in light of recent North Korean threats.  Senior nuclear weapons developers have told Scout Warrior that upgraded guidance packages, durability and new targeting technology are all among areas of current developmental emphasis.

While, quite naturally, many of the details of the emerging new ICBMs are not available for discussion for security reasons, Collins did elaborate a bit on the systems engineering strategy being employed by Air Force developers.

Collins, an engineer himself, explained that the current acquisition strategy prioritizes model-based systems engineering designed to expedite technological development.

“Our approach to systems engineering leverages the power of 21st century technology to allow the program office to better "Own the Technical Baseline" through a spectrum of tools, models and simulations in a collaborative and interactive data environment,” Collins said.

The strategy, Collins explained, is intended the Air Force to better manage program and technical complexity through digital traceability and aggregation.

“This provides a single source of truth across the weapon system design, and allows a more comprehensive and deeper understanding of the architecture and design,” he said.

The new ICBMs will be deployed roughly within the same geographical expanse in which the current weapons are stationed. In total, dispersed areas across three different sites span 33,600 miles, including missiles in Cheyenne, Wyoming, Minot, North Dakota and Great Falls, Montana.

The Air Force plans to award the single EMD contract in late fiscal year 2020.