The current ground-based strategic deterrent system is reaching the end of its useful lifespan. First installed at Northern Tier Air Force bases in 1968, the LGM-30 Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles were intended to serve for a decade.
Fifty years later, the Minuteman III remains in place as the land-based component of the nation's strategic triad--complementing nuclear-weapons systems that are deployed on the Air Force's strategic bombers and Navy's ballistic-missile submarines.
As the legacy platform ages, the Air Force and industry are moving forward with plans to replace it with a new ground-based strategic deterrent, or GBSD.
"Our existing systems are getting old. They need to be replaced," said Ann Stefanek, an Air Force spokesperson.
Tom Karako, senior international security program fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said, "The Trump administration, like Obama before it, is going over everything--all of the options--and saying, 'We really need to replace this, and also nuclear command and control.'"
Mark Gunzinger, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, said: "We are reaching the limit to our ability to continue to extend the service life of the Minuteman III."
Last August, the Air Force selected two companies--Boeing and Northrop Grumman--as the two primary competitors to design and build the GBSD. Both firms are now entering the second of a three-year, technology maturation and risk reduction phase, funded at roughly the same amount of money for each. Northrop Grumman received $350 million, while Boeing got $349 million.
"We're supposed to inform [the Air Force about] requirements going into the next phase--engineering, manufacturing and development," said Patricia Dare, team lead for strategic deterrence systems at Boeing.
Northrop Grumman declined to be interviewed for this story.
The Air Force is expected to award a contract sometime around next August. Once complete, the new GBSD systems would be installed in existing silos and workspaces at three Air Force bases--F. E. Warren in Wyoming, Minot in North Dakota, and Malmstrom in Montana. Under terms of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) with Russia, GBSD will be limited to 400 operational weapons. The system should be ready by the end of the next decade.
"One of the things we're doing with this contract is keeping competition longer in the process than we may have done in the past,"...