Boeing Seeks to Design America’s Next Ballistic Missile (Learn More)

US Air Force seeking replacement for Minuteman III ICBM Boeing, Air Force partnership on ICBM force began in 1958 (Image courtesy of Boeing)
US Air Force seeking replacement for Minuteman III ICBM Boeing, Air Force partnership on ICBM force began in 1958 (Image courtesy of Boeing)

Boeing will develop a preliminary design for America’s next intercontinental ballistic missile through a $349 million U.S. Air Force contract which was announced today.

Boeing and Northrop Grumman each received risk-reduction contracts for the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD) program, which will replace the Minuteman III ICBM.

(The U.S. military successfully test-launched an ICBM Minuteman III Intercontinental Ballistic Missile from California early Wednesday, according to an Air Force spokesman — just days after North Korea’s second test of an ICBM. Courtesy of HNTv and YouTube)

Minuteman entered service in 1962 as a weapon tasked primarily with the deterrence role, threatening Soviet cities with a second strike countervalue counterattack if the U.S. was attacked.

However, with the development of the U.S. Navy‘s Polaris which addressed the same role, the Air Force began to modify Minuteman into a weapon with much greater accuracy with the specific intent of allowing it to attack hardened military targets, including Soviet missile silos.

Airmen work on a Minuteman III’s Multiple Independently-targetable Re-entry Vehicle (MIRV) system. Current missiles carry a single warhead. (Image courtesy of Wikipedia)
Airmen work on a Minuteman III’s Multiple Independently-targetable Re-entry Vehicle (MIRV) system. Current missiles carry a single warhead. (Image courtesy of Wikipedia)

The Minuteman-II entered service in 1965 with a host of upgrades to improve its accuracy and survivability in the face of an anti-ballistic missile (ABM) system the Soviets were known to be developing.

Minuteman-III followed in 1970, using three smaller warheads instead of one large one, which made it very difficult to attack by an anti-ballistic missile system which would have to hit all three widely separated warheads to be effective.

Minuteman-III was the first multiple independently targetable reentry vehicle (MIRV) ICBM to be deployed.

Each missile can carry up to three thermonuclear weapons, which have a yield in the range of 300 to 500 kilotons.

As of 2017, the LGM-30G Minuteman III version[a] is the only land-based ICBM in service in the United States.

In 2020, the Air Force will choose one company to develop the new land-based element of America’s nuclear triad.

Missiles launched from submarines and aircraft are the other elements of the triad.

“Since the first Minuteman launch in 1961, the U.S. Air Force has relied on our technologies for a safe, secure and reliable ICBM force,” said Frank McCall, Boeing director of Strategic Deterrence Systems and GBSD program manager.

“As the Air Force prepares to replace the Minuteman III, we will once again answer the call by drawing on the best of Boeing to deliver the capability, flexibility and affordability the mission requires.”

BoeingBoeing’s work will be done in Huntsville, Ala.; Ogden, Utah; Heath, Ohio; and other locations.

The Minuteman III replacement effort will include flight, command and control, and launch systems.

The Engineering and Manufacturing Development phase of the program will be awarded to one company in 2020.