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Pentagon awards Northrop Grumman contract to develop next-gen $85bn ICBM for nuclear triad upgrade

Pentagon awards Northrop Grumman contract to develop next-gen $85bn ICBM for nuclear triad upgrade
The Pentagon has handed arms manufacturer Northrop Grumman a colossal $13.3 billion contract to develop a new ICBM to replace the Minuteman III missile, part of a sweeping modernization effort to update the US’ nuclear triad.

Northrop announced the deal on Tuesday, saying the company was “selected by the US Air Force to modernize the nation’s aging intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) system.” The multi-billion dollar contract will see Northrop begin work on the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD) program, an eight-year project that will focus on the design of the new missile system, as well as early testing and evaluation.

The new long-range missile, according to the Air Force, “will have increased accuracy, enhanced security, and improved reliability to provide the United States with an upgraded and broader array of strategic nuclear options.” It is expected to be in operation by 2029 and could ultimately cost up to $85 billion.

Though Boeing also vied for the contract, it dropped from the bidding in July after Northrop’s acquisition of Orbital ATK, a solid rocket motor manufacturer, one of only two US-based suppliers for that type of motor. Boeing argued the other supplier was not suitable for the GBSD project, and that the Northrop-owned company dragged its feet in price negotiations, claiming Northrop had an “unfair advantage.” The Air Force refused to act on Boeing’s complaints, however, and the firm withdrew its bid.

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The development of a new ICBM comes as part of a massive nuclear modernization scheme instituted under former president Barack Obama, initially set to cost $1 trillion and span three decades. Though President Donald Trump has rejected much of his predecessor’s legacy, he has embraced the nuclear initiative with open arms, even approving greater spending for the project in the 2021 budget. In addition to replacing the Minuteman III, whose first variant was put into service in 1970, the military is also working to revamp the other two legs of the US nuclear triad, including upgrades for its nuclear-capable aircraft and submarines.

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