Sept. 9 (UPI) -- The U.S. Air Force awarded a $13.3 billion contract for the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent, a next-generation intercontinental ballistic missile system to Northrop Grumman, the Defense Department announced.
The nine-year contract, announced on Tuesday, calls for development of the GBSD intercontinental ballistic missile, an improvement over the aging LGM-30G Minuteman 3 ICBM initially put in use in 1970.
Northrop Grumman was the sole bidder on the contract after Boeing withdrew from consideration in 2019.
The new system is expected to have increased accuracy, enhanced security and improved reliability over the Minuteman series, Air Force and Pentagon officials have said.
"Modernizing the nuclear strategic triad [of land,sea and air capability to launch nuclear missiles] is a top priority of our military," Defense Secretary Mark Esper said in a statement. "It's key to our nation's defense. It provides that strategic nuclear deterrent that we depend on, day after day, that we've depended on decade after decade."
The contract, which could ultimately be valued at up to $85 billion, covers the engineering and manufacturing development phase of the GBSD program. It will precede weapon system design, qualification, test and evaluation, and nuclear certification.
After completion of the EMD phase, Northrop Grumman will "begin producing and delivering a modern and fully integrated weapon system to meet the Air Force schedule of initial operational capability by 2029," the company said in a press release.
"Across the Department of the Air Force, we are looking for opportunities to inject innovation into programs to stay ahead of our adversaries," said Will Roper, assistant secretary for acquisition, technology and logistics.
"Our GBSD team is doing just that by leveraging a modular open system approach to ensure our next generation ICBM system is adaptable to challenges posed by the pace of technological advancements and new threat environments."