Northrop Grumman Space and Mission Systems of Clearfield, UT received a contract modification for $176.2 million, exercising the Minuteman III Intercontinental Ballistic Missile Propulsion Replacement Program’s (PRP) final full rate production (year 7) option. NGC tends to sub-contract large portions of this work to ATK Thiokol; the Minuteman III PRP began in 1998 as a Joint Venture between ATK and Pratt & Whitney, but all work content was transitioned to ATK in the 2003-2004 timeframe following a contract restructure. DID has covered related contracts in November 2006 ($222.5 million), March 2006 ($541 million) and January 2006 ($225.2 million). Presumably, the ICBMs’ Environmental Protection Agency certification has been taken care of by now.
The purpose of PRP is to ensure MM Flight Reliability and supportability of the USA’s LGM-30G Minuteman III nuclear ICBMs through 2020 by correcting identified mission threatening degradations, sustaining existing reliability, and supporting Minuteman Life Extension Efforts. America chose to retire its larger, newer, and more capable MX Peacekeeper missiles in 2005, in compliance with arms control treaties it has signed. This contract action will purchase the remaining 56 Minuteman III booster sets, making a total of 601 sets acquired during the PRP. At this time, $51.6 million has been obligated. The 526th ICBM Systems Wing at Hill Air Force Base, UT holds the contract (F42310-98-C-0001). See also Northrop Grumman release.
September 9/16: The DoD’s chief weapons buyer has estimated that a new intercontinental ballistic missile to replace the Minuteman III will cost at least $85 billion to develop and field. In a memo to USAF Secretary Deborah James, Frank Kendall cited figures generated by the Pentagon’s Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation office, which are about 36% more than a preliminary estimate by the service. The figure will be reassessed in “March 2018 once missile designs are more advanced, technical risks are reduced and the service has a better understanding of overall costs.”
August 18/16: The Pentagon and the USAF have run into issues over the latter’s plan to replace the LGM-30G intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). Concern over cost estimates given the USAF have been expressed by Washington, who found that the flying branch’s figure differs greatly from that of the office of independent cost assessment. The disparity stems from the fact that the US hasn’t built new ICBMs in decades, and nuclear spending over the next 30 years could exceed $1 trillion.
January 26/16: An investigation into a “mishap” involving a Minuteman III ICBM causing $1.8 million worth of damage has been released. The heavily redacted report cited crew inexperience as the main factor, after they were sent to fix an error that arose during a routine diagnostic test, causing damage to the missile after failure to follow procedures. While investigators said they found four contributing factors to the cause of the incident, only two could be found in the report itself. The majority of the blame seems to rest with the crew leader in charge of the troubleshooting, who failed to first follow technical guidance, and then lacked the the adequate proficiency level to anticipate the consequences of his actions during the incident. The report follows the recent debates over the spending of billions of dollars on upgrading and maintaining these strategic missiles which are coming to be seen as an antiquated defense mechanism.