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US spending $13 billion for new ICBM nukes to replace Minuteman III

An unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile launches during an operational test April 26, 2017, from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Ian Dudley)
September 09, 2020

The U.S. Air Force awarded a $13.3 billion contract to Northrop Grumman Corporation to modernize the U.S. arsenal of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), the company announced on Tuesday.

Northrop Grumman will lead in the development of the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD) program, representing the new generation of U.S. nuclear missiles. Northrop Grumman will start the engineering and manufacturing development (EMD) phase of developing the new missile system.

“Our nation is facing a rapidly evolving threat environment and protecting our citizens with a modern strategic deterrent capability has never been more critical,” said Northrop Grumman chairman, CEO and president, Northrop Grumman Kathy Warden.

Warden continued, “With more than 65 years of technical leadership on every ICBM system, our nationwide team is honored and committed to continuing our partnership with the U.S. Air Force to deliver a safe, secure and effective system that will contribute to global stability for years to come.”

The GBSD is intended to replace the Minuteman III which, according to an Air Force fact sheet, has been in service since 1970.

“Modernizing the nuclear strategic triad is a top priority of our military,” Defense Secretary Mark Esper said in a press release reported by The Hill. “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.”

Northrop Grumman reportedly won the new contract after becoming the sole bidder when Boeing dropped out of the bidding.

The Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center anticipates that the effort to develop the GBSD will span 8.5 years and include weapon system design, qualification, test and evaluation and nuclear certification. Once the EMD phase of the weapon development is complete, Northrop Grumman will begin producing, delivering and integrating the new ICBMs into the existing U.S. arsenal. The new ICBMs are expected to have initial operational capability by 2029.

The Hill reported the new nuclear weapon program is expected to be worth at least $85 billion over the next several decades. Plans to completely modernize the U.S. nuclear arsenal are expected to cost about $1.2 trillion in total.

Democratic lawmakers and nuclear nonproliferation advocates have reportedly opposed the GBSD program and have argued instead for studies to extend the lifespan of the current Minuteman III arsenal.

Some advocates have also called for the discontinuation of the land-component of the nuclear triad, consisting of land and sea-based nuclear missiles and strategic aircraft capable of carrying nuclear bombs and missiles. Those opponents of the land-based component of the nuclear triad argue the high alert status of the missiles increases the risk of unintentional nuclear conflict over a false alarm.