The Air Force plans to fire off new prototype ICBMs in the early 2020s as part of a long-range plan to engineer and deploy next-generation nuclear armed intercontinental ballistic missiles by the late 2020s — by building weapons with improved range, durability, targeting technology, and overall lethality, service officials said.
The service is already making initial technological progress on design work and “systems engineering” for a new arsenal of ICBMs to serve well into the 2070s — called Ground Based Strategic Deterrent, or GBSD.
“GBSD initial operating capability is currently projected for the late 2020s,” Capt. Hope Cronin, Air Force spokeswoman, told Warrior Maven.
Northrop Grumman and Boeing teams were awarded Technology Maturation and Risk Reduction deals from the Air Force in 2017 as part of a longer-term developmental trajectory aimed at developing, testing, firing and ultimately deploying new ICBMs.
Following an initial 3-year developmental phase, the Air Force plans an Engineering and Manufacturing Development phase and eventual deployment of the new weapons.
“Milestone B is currently projected for the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2020. This represents the completion of technology maturation and risk reduction activities and initiates the engineering and manufacturing development phase,” Cronin said.
A Minuteman III ICBM test launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base, United States.
(U.S. Air Force photo)
The Air Force plans to award the single EMD contract in late fiscal year 2020.
Overall, the Air Force plans to build as many as 400 new GBSD weapons to modernize the arsenal and replace the 1970s-era Boeing-built Minuteman IIIs.
The new weapons will be engineered with improved guidance technology, boosters, flight systems and command and control systems, compared to the existing Minuteman III missiles. The weapon will also have upgraded circuitry and be built with a mind to long-term maintenance and sustainability, developers said.
“The GBSD design has not been finalized. Cost capability and trade studies are ongoing,” Cronin added.
Initial subsystem prototypes are included within the scope of the current Boeing and Northrop deals, service developers said.
Senior nuclear weapons developers have told Warrior that upgraded guidance packages, durability and new targeting technology are all among areas of current developmental emphasis for the GBSD.
The new ICBMs will be deployed roughly within the same geographical expanse in which the current weapons are stationed. In total, dispersed areas across three different sites span 33,600 miles, including missiles in Cheyenne, Wyoming, Minot, North Dakota, and Great Falls, Montana.
The Paradox of Strategic Deterrence
“GBSD will provide a safe, secure and effective land-based deterrent through 2075,” Cronin claimed.
If one were to passively reflect upon the seemingly limitless explosive power to instantly destroy, vaporize or incinerate cities, countries and massive swaths of territory or people — images of quiet, flowing green meadows, peaceful celebratory gatherings or melodious sounds of chirping birds might not immediately come to mind.
After all, lethal destructive weaponry does not, by any means, appear to be synonymous with peace, tranquility and collective happiness. However, it is precisely the prospect of massive violence which engenders the possibility of peace. Nuclear weapons therefore, in some unambiguous sense, can be interpreted as being the antithesis of themselves; simply put — potential for mass violence creates peace — thus the conceptual thrust of nuclear deterrence.
This article originally appeared on Warrior Maven. Follow @warriormaven1 on Twitter.