//Missile Envy: Modernizing the US ICBM Force

Missile Envy: Modernizing the US ICBM Force

ICBM LGM-30G Minuteman-III Launch Dark

LGM-30G Minuteman III
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For 50 years, land-based Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) have been part of the US primary strategic deterrence capability, the nuclear-armed triad that also includes submarine-launched ballistic missiles and long range heavy bombers.

Although the main target for the US deterrent – the Soviet Union – imploded in 1991, other threats – such as nuclear-armed rogue states and non-state actors – have emerged. To address these new threats, the US Air Force undertook a major ICBM modernization program.

To carry out this program, the USAF awarded a 15-year ICBM Prime Integration Contract (F42610-98-C-0001) in 1997 to a team led by Northrop Grumman. Since then, the team, which includes Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and ATK, has been carrying out a major modernization of the ICBM system to ensure its readiness.

ICBM Prime

Missile launch

Minuteman III launch

The ICBM Prime Integration Contract covers modernization of thousands of missile propulsion, guidance, re-entry, and ground system components. The goal is to extend the US Minuteman III ICBM’s life to 2030.

Some of the larger programs covered by the contract include:

ICBM Security Modernization Program, which is implementing steps to keep nuclear-tipped ICBMs securely in their silos;

Safety Enhanced Re-entry Vehicle (SERV) Program, which is fitting Minuteman III ICBMs with the Mk 21 re-entry vehicle from the decommissioned Peacekeeper missile force – a change that will provide US Strategic Command planners with increased targeting flexibility and enhanced safety;

Propulsion Replacement Program, which is remanufacturing motors to replace Minuteman III’s aging propellant to maintain booster reliability;

Guidance Replacement Program, which is substituting the NS-50 missile guidance set for aging 1960s vintage guidance electronics, improving flight reliability, system maintainability, and nuclear safety;

Propulsion System Rocket Engine Life Extension Program, which is replacing engine components originally produced in the 1970s that had a 10-year design life;

Rapid Execution and Combat Targeting Service Life Extension Program, which is updating ICBM command and control capability;

Minuteman Minimum Essential Emergency Communications Network program, which upgraded communications in all Minuteman III launch control centers and also connected these systems to the Milstar satellite communications system; and

Improvement to the launch control centers, accomplished through the Environmental Control System program, which is upgrading climate controls to ensure that electronics and ground support systems are maintained at specified pre-set temperatures.

Contracts and Key Events

Missile launch

Still Ready.

Numerous contract modifications have been issued under the ICBM Prime Integration Contract (F42610-98-C-0001). Below are contract modifications covered by DID over the years. Unless otherwise noted, the contracts are awarded by Hill Air Force Base in northern Utah to Northrop Grumman Space and Mission Systems in Clearfield, UT.

July 16/19: Multiprobe Antenna Textron Defense Systems won a $51.3 million contract modification for the Minuteman III Intercontinental Ballistic Missile Weapon System multiprobe antenna procurement. The Minuteman Intercontinental Ballistic Missile or ICBM is an element of the USA’s strategic deterrent forces under the control of the Air Force Global Strike Command. It is a strategic weapon system using a ballistic missile of intercontinental range. Missiles are dispersed in hardened silos to protect against attack and connected to an underground launch control center through a system of hardened cables. Textron will perform work in Wilmington, Massachusetts, and expected completion date is July 13, 2029.

May 6/19: Launch The US Air Force launched a Minuteman III Intercontinental Ballistic Missile from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The unarmed rocket equipped with a test re-entry vehicle took off at 2:42 a.m. on Wednesday. The missile traveled approximately 4,200 miles to the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands. According to the Air Force, the test was designed to verify the accuracy and reliability of the ICBM weapon system in an effort “to ensure a continued safe, secure and effective nuclear deterrent. The Department of Defense, the Department of Energy and US Strategic Command use data collected from test launches for ongoing force development evaluation.

April 18/19: Minuteman Maintenance Lockheed Martin Space won an $879 million contract to support the US Air Force in maintaining re-entry system and vehicle subsystems for the intercontinental ballistic missile platform. The potential 11-year contract includes maintenance, sustainment, developmental and production engineering, aging surveillance, alteration and software maintenance support for Minuteman III RS/RV equipment. The ICBM is a strategic weapon system using a ballistic missile of intercontinental range. The Minuteman III ICBM is currently the US Air Force’s only operational land-based strategic nuclear missile and can reach targets more than 6,000 miles away. Missiles are dispersed in hardened silos to protect against attack and connected to an underground launch control center through a system of hardened cables. Launch crews, consisting of two officers, perform around-the-clock alert in the launch control center. Lockheed will perform work in Pennsylvania and Utah and expects completion by June 4, 2030.

November 15/18: Package Boeing is being awarded with extra funding in support of the US’ Minuteman III ICBM system. Awarded by the Air Force Nuclear Weapon Center, the additional $70.5 million cover specification changes for the ICBM’s Missile Flight Test, Telemetry, and Termination program. This includes changes to the management plan and flight termination receiver; and to the electromagnetic interference, cable qualification and antenna testing requirements. The Minuteman III has been an essential part of the USA’s nuclear strike capability for decades and will remain in service through 2030. The Minuteman III has a fast launch time, nearly 100 percent testing reliability, and backup airborne launch controllers to preserve retaliatory capabilities. The Minuteman’s telemetry, test, and termination systems are packaged in a wafer-like package called the Mod 7 that fits on test versions of the Minuteman between the missile’s reentry system and missile guidance set. During tests, Mod 7 transmits data from sensors aboard the test missiles that monitor the missile’s behavior before and during flight. The telemetry, test, and termination systems transmit telemetry data in real time on the missile’s critical on-board components like batteries booster stage pressure chambers, and guidance section. Most of the work will be performed in Huntington Beach, California. Performance is expected to be completed by January 29, 2021.

October 19/18: Cryptography II Boeing is being tapped to support the US Intercontinental Ballistic Missile modernisation program which intends to keep the Minuteman III operational through 2030. The company will deliver eight digital components and 75 message processor drawers in compliance with the government’s minimum requirement for the ICBM program under this $55.6 million undefinitized contract. This action supports the program’s Cryptography Upgrade Increment II, which fully integrates KS-60 capabilities of remote key/code change and irreversible code transformation. Work under the sole-sourced and firm-price-incentive-fee contract will take place in Huntsville, Alabama and Huntington Beach, California. The project is slated for completion on February 11, 2019.

August 1/16: Two contracts are to be awarded by the USAF in 2017 for a new Inter Continental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) weapons system, or ground-based strategic deterrent. On Friday, the service released a request for proposals for the replacement of the existing Minutemen III ICBMs as part of the military’s costly modernization of its atomic weapons systems. The next ten years will see up to $350 billion spent on the modernization with some analysts suggesting the costs will run in excess of $1 trillion over 30 years.

June 8/16: The USAF has claimed it is not looking at a road-mobile option for its next-generation intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). Under the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD) program the aging Minuteman III ICBM fleet will be replaced. Speaking about the mobile option, a service official said “We want to make sure that as we look at GBSD, we’re building it modular so if changes need to be made in the weapon system you don’t have to open up, let’s say, the software to redo the entire software.”

March 14/11: Lockheed Martin announces it received a $12.5 million contract from Northrop Grumman for refurbishment of re-entry vehicle arming and fuzing assemblies for the Minuteman III. Under the subcontract, Lockheed Martin Space System’s Valley Forge facility in King of Prussia, PA will replace components and refurbish and test the assemblies. The subcontract includes an option for a second year. Under an earlier contract in 2009, Lockheed Martin demonstrated the feasibility of the refurbishment effort. Lockheed Martin is the original equipment manufacturer for the arming and fuzing assembly.

Oct 6/10: Lockheed Martin announces it received a $106 million contract from Northrop Grumman to develop next-generation re-entry field support equipment (RFSE) for the Minuteman III. Under the 58-month contract, Lockheed Martin will design, develop, test, and deliver 2 sets of RFSE, with an additional 10 RFSE sets to be delivered in a follow-on contract. The RFSE will replace the aging Minuteman III Re-entry System Test Set (RSTS). Lockheed Martin will continue to sustain the RSTS, for which it is the original equipment manufacturer, until deployment of the replacement RFSE, which will be used, along with SERV support equipment, to test Mk12A and Mk21 re-entry vehicles.

April 19/10: $33.8 million to provide sustainment support for the Minuteman weapon system. At this time, $31.8 has been obligated.

April 2/10: $15.3 million contract to provide a Minuteman enhancement reliability accelerometer engineering and feasibility study, Phase III, prototype phase. At this time, $10.9 million has been obligated.

Dec 24/09: A $16.3 million firm-fixed-price contract modification for the exercise of options 12 and 13 for the Propulsion System Rocket Engine Life Extension Program.

Nov 19/09: A $31.1 million contract modification to provide for the Remote Visual Assessment Program in support of the ICBM Security Modernization Program.

Dec 21/06: A $53.1 million fixed-price-incentive-firm and cost-plus-award fee contract modification, exercising option 1 to continue upgrading the Environmental Control System for the Minuteman III ICBM system. Work is expected to be complete October 2008.

Nov 1/06: A $225.2 million cost-plus-fixed fee, cost-plus-incentive fee contract modification to remanufacture Stage 1, 2, and 3 rockets motors and offer product quality assurance test support. The contractor will provide 75 complete booster components sets (one each Stage 1, 2 and 3 motors and an ordnance kit) and 2 product quality assurance test motors.

April 6/06: A $34.8 million cost-plus incentive-fee contract modification to begin to provide for full rate production of Minuteman III Safety Enhanced Reentry Vehicles (SERV) on US ICBMs. The scheduled completion date is March 2010.

March 17/06: A $7.7 million fixed price incentive (firm target) award fee, firm-fixed price contract modification for Guidance Replacement Program (GRP) full rate production (FRP) Value Engineering Change Proposal 01-OPIC-030 and 01-IPIC-0009.

March 17/06: A $25 million fixed price incentive firm with award fee contract modification. This contract will provide environmental control system units, deployment activities, and interim contractor support to upgrade the launch facilities and missile alert facilities at the 3 US ICBM missile wings. Work is expected to be complete October 2007.

Jan 19/06: A $225.2 million cost-plus-incentive-fee, cost-plus-award-fee contract modification for ICBM Propulsion Replacement Program. Full Rate Production (FRP) options FRP5, FRP6, and FRP7 restructure modification for 212 stage 1, 2 and 3 rocket motors, production quality assurance, ordnance production, and contractor cost data reports.

Sept 20/05: A $122.7 million cost plus award fee contract modification to exercise option VIII for the ICBM Prime Integrated Contract to support the Minuteman ICBM. Work on the contract will be complete by September 2006.

June 20/05: A $5.9 million cost-plus award-fee contract modification to ensure that US ICBM Reentry Vehicles (which carry nuclear warheads) remain functional until retirement and that an industrial base exists to support replacement follow-on systems. Work is expected to be complete by June 2007.

May 19/05: A $24 million cost-plus award-fee contract modification to provide for ICBM Security Modernization Program Fast Rising B-Plug Low Rate Initial Production; 15 B-Plug Kits and 6 B-Plug Kit Installations will be produced under this contract modification. Work is expected to be complete by September 2007.

Additional Readings

DID (Nov 19/09) – No Dr. Strangelove Here: USAF Takes Steps to Beef Up ICBM Security

DID (Dec 21/06) – $53.1M for Minuteman III ECS Upgrades

DID (Nov 1/06) – $225.2M to Remanufacture Minuteman III Rocket Motors

DID (April 6/06) – SERV Program for “Safety Enhanced” Nuclear Warhead RVs Enters Full-Rate Production

DID (March 17/06) – $32.7M to N-G as Part of US ICBM Refurbishment

DID (Jan 19/06) – US Spends $225.2M for 212 ICBM Rocket Motors

DID (Sept 20/05) – MX Missiles Deactivated, Minutemen at the Ready (updated)

DID (June 20/05) – $5.9M to Keep ICBM Warheads Operational

DID (May 19/05) – $24M for ICBM Security Doors

DID (April 11/05) – $7M to Upgrade ICBM Readiness Testing

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