Lockheed won’t protest now two-way race to refresh U.S. nuclear arsenal

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This story was updated Sept. 1.

WASHINGTON — Lockheed Martin Strategic and Missile Defense Systems will not protest the U.S. Air Force’s decision to move ahead with teams led by Boeing and Northrop Grumman for the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD) program to replace Minuteman 3 intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).

The Air Force on Aug. 21 awarded Boeing Space and Missile Systems of Huntsville, Alabama, a $349.2 million contract and Northrop Grumman Systems Corp. of Redondo Beach, California, a $328.6 million contract for three-year parallel efforts to mature technology and reduce risk for prototyping and developing flight, command and control, and launch systems for the Minuteman 3 replacement missiles.

At the time of the down-select awards, Lockheed released a statement saying it would await an Air Force debriefing on the reasons behind the service’s decision before deciding to take a further action, such as to file a protest.

“After receiving a debrief and reviewing information provided, Lockheed Martin has accepted the Air Force’s decision on the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent program and decided not to protest,” company spokesman Sydney Owens said in an Aug. 30 statement.

“We are proud of our proposal and believe it met all mission requirements,” Owens said. “Lockheed Martin has a long track record of success in engineering, evolving and sustaining ballistic missile systems, and we will be looking for opportunities to support the Air Force and the GBSD program throughout its lifecycle.”

The lifecycle and total costs for the GBSD could be substantial – some $62 billion, according to the Air Force’s own estimate. The Pentagon’s Office of Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation, however, says replenishing the U.S. nuclear arsenal could cost as much as $85 billion.

Northrop’s team includes Aerojet Rocketdyne and Orbital ATK. These two builders of solid rocket motors were on Lockheed Martin’s GBSD team as well.

Boeing, the current Minuteman 3 missile supplier, declined to disclose any partners or suppliers for the new contract, but said it plans to do so at the Air Force Association’s annual national convention Sept. 16-17 at National Harbor, Maryland. Aerojet Rocketdyne, in an Aug. 31 press release, said it will support Boeing’s GBSD work by “evaluat[ing] multiple boost and post-boost propulsion system options and provide early designs that meet specific prime contractor ICBM configurations.”

The Air Force issued requests about a year ago for proposals to replace Minuteman 3 missiles and their associated systems.

“The Minuteman III is 45 years old,” Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein said in a statement accompanying the announcement of the contract award. “It is time to upgrade.”

In another statement issued at the same time, Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson said, “We are moving forward with modernization of the ground-based leg of the nuclear triad.”

The triad consists of land-based ICBMS, strategic bombers and submarine-launched nuclear missiles.