An unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile launches during an operational test at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., in 2017. Photo by/Senior Airman Ian Dudley/U.S. Air Force/UPI
July 17 (UPI) -- The U.S. Air Force announced a request for proposals for its new intercontinental ballistic missile weapon system program to replace the Minuteman III system designed in the 1960s.
The request for the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent ICBMs, announced Tuesday, follows the weapon system's Engineering and Manufacturing Development phase. It includes five production lot options to produce and deploy the system.
Two contractors involved in the system's current Technology Maturation and Risk Reduction phase, Boeing and Northrop Grumman, will compete for the EMD contract, the Air Force said. In August 2017, the service awarded a $349 million contract to Boeing and $328 million to Northrop to mature their designs and reduce risk, cutting Lockheed Martin from the competition.
The GBSD is meant to replace the aging LGM-30G Minuteman III ICBM, which first became operational in the mid-1960s and with improvements of some components, have logged over 50 years of continuous operation.
The Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center expects to award the contract to either Boeing or Northrop Grumman in the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2020.
Ellen Lord, undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, said in May that an upgrade of nuclear capability and modernization is required, adding that it no longer makes financial sense to continue to extend the life of existing Minuteman III ICBMs.
"We need, to, by 2028, start replacing [ICBMs]," she said.
Senior Air Force leaders are in support of the modernization effort.
"If you look at the threat that we face, Russia just completed their modernization of their triad [of air, ground and maritime defenses] this year, because they know they cannot defeat us, and certainly can't defeat NATO, conventionally," said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein at a congressional committee hearing in April. "So, our modernization and recap of the triad is just in time because in the missile leg, key parts of that program expire right about the time that we bring on the new Ground Based Strategic Deterrent to replace it."
In 2018, Boeing and Northrop Grumman submitted "trade studies" to help the Air Force draft program requirements in anticipation of the request for proposals.