Aug. 22 (UPI) -- Boeing and Northrop Grumman have received $349.2 million and $328.6 million contracts respectively for the development of the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent replacement for the LGM-30G Minuteman III ballistic missile.
The contracts are to run until Aug. 20, 2020, when one of the two companies will be selected to finish the program. Boeing, Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin have all been competing to develop the new missile.
The Ground Based Strategic Deterrent is the U.S. Air Force effort to replace the venerable Minuteman III ICBM which is nearing the end of its effective lifespan.
Variants of the Minuteman series of ICBMs have been in service since the early 1960s. Much of its components are over 50 years old and the Air Force says a replacement is vital to maintain the U.S. nuclear "triad" of ground, air and sea deployed nuclear weapons.
The GDSM program is still in its early stages and is expected to start entering service in 2027 and is planned to be the primary U.S. ICBM until at least 2075.
The new missile is part of a wider effort to modernize the aging U.S. nuclear arsenal which includes programs like the Columbia-class ballistic missile submarine and a possible new air-launched nuclear-tipped cruise missile.
The current Minuteman III is an underground silo-launched missile armed with nuclear warheads with a yield of up to 350 kilotons. It has a range of well over 6,000 miles, although the exact maximum range is classified.
The Miniuteman III can carry up to three multiple independent reentry vehicle warheads but is restricted to one per missile by treaty. The United States currently has 450 Minuteman III ICBMs in service.