Boeing and Northrop Grumman have stolen a march on rival Lockheed Martin, announcing in separate releases that they'd won US Air Force contracts to develop preliminary designs for the next generation of American ICBMs. The US$350 million Technology Maturation and Risk Reduction (TMRR) contracts were awarded as part of the Air Force's Ground Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD) program to replace the country's aging Minuteman III land-based missiles.

The United States' long-standing nuclear strategy is based on maintaining a triad of nuclear deterrent systems consisting of a combination of stand-off bombers, ballistic missile submarines, and land-based missile silos. It's an arrangement that saw the West through the Cold War, but all three legs of the triad are now aging, obsolescent, and slated for replacement in the coming decades.

Currently, the land-based part of the triad consists entirely of 450 LGM-30G Minuteman III missiles housed in underground silos across the American Midwest. First deployed in 1970, the solid-fueled Minuteman III has been improved over the decades, but is so old that its computers still use 8-in floppy discs and is scheduled to stand down sometime after 2030.

In 2020, the Air Force will decide whether Boeing or Northrop will develop the Minuteman's replacement. Meanwhile, the present contract for the preliminary design for America's next ICBM includes work on the flight, command and control, and launch systems.

Sources: Boeing, Northrop Grumman

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