Lockheed Martin making plans for major missile upgrade program
The U.S. Air Force recently launched a major multi-billion dollar, long-term program to replace the Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile system. The program will have a significant impact on the Minot community and other communities with nearby Air Force ICBM wings.
Minot Air Force Base’s 91st Missile Wing is one of three ICBM wings in the Air Force responsible for operating, maintaining and securing 150 Minuteman III missiles in underground launch facilities across several counties in northwest and north central North Dakota. The other wings are at F.E. Warren AFB, Wyo., and Malmstom AFB, Mont.
On Wednesday, a team from Lockheed-Martin met with Minot Area Chamber of Commerce officials to discuss the program and the impact it will have on the local community.
Lockheed Martin is one of three qualified military contractors to submit its proposal recently for the program. Boeing and Northrop Grumman also have submitted proposals.
The program will primarily involve upgrading the missile, communications, launch facilities and launch control centers.
Currently, Lockheed Martin is doing research and making preparations if the company is selected for the program. Besides Minot, the work will be done in Wyoming and Montana where other ICBMs are located.
The Lockheed Martin team members in Minot for the meeting were: John Karas, vice president and Ground Based Strategic Deterrent program manager at Lockheed Martin Space Systems Co., Denver; retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Thomas Deppe, independent consultant to Lockheed Martin from Florida; Bill Hughes, Business Development for Lockheed Martin Space Systems in King of Prussia, Pa.; and Frank Gallegos, director of Lockheed Martin Strategic Programs/Government Affairs at its Omaha Field Office.
“We do plan to engage the community more entirely including other industry and academia because if we’re fortunate enough to win, GBSD upgrade is not just about the missile,” he said.
In addition to the 150 Minuteman III ICBMs in underground facilities in the Minot missile field, the program includes the launch control centers and Minot Air Force Base.
“GBSD is going to take a lot of effort and people,” Karas said.
The federal government estimates the entire project costs will range between $50 billion to $80 billion. From the three contractors’ proposals, first two proposals will be selected and finally one contractor will be selected.
Of the total project costs around $10 billion-15 billion of it will be for the upgrades at the three wings, with several billion dollars per wing.
The Air Force has programmed 2075 as the end date for GBSD. Lockheed Martin team members said their design has to be supportable and sustainable to that time.
“The Air Force is all about cost and schedule,” Karas said. “We’ve got to lean forward now even if the award is not expected until the third quarter of next year. You have to get started to get contractors lined up and trusted partnerships so we’ll start with the Chamber.”
Several weeks ago, they met with staff members of congressional members in Washington, D.C.
Karas said if they are awarded the project, they plan to expand to local industries because there will be workers needed for positions including air conditioning, electrical and fitters.
“If we’re fortunate enough to get selected, I don’t see how you can do it any other way. I think there will be a lot of regional jobs too because of the magnitude of the job,” Karas said.
The Minuteman missiles have had numerous modifications over the years, but team members said GBSD likely will be the biggest effort ever in terms of modifications since the silos and missiles were installed in the 1960s.
“We’re trying for minimum disruption to the community with maximum positive impact,” Karas said. “The positive impact is all the local workers and capabilities. Once we see what areas are we think there will be opportunities to create new industry or new jobs here because we’re going to need new staging sites for hundreds, if not thousands of pieces of hardware for the base and upgrading what’s inside the silos.”
He said Lockheed Martin will start with surveys of local areas. “Definitely when it comes time to start upgrading the silos and launch control facilities, it will be a lot of local focus,” he said.
“It’s a three-year contract for us to study and at the end of the three years is when they’ll pick a single contractor,” Karas said.
When activity starts will depend on the Air Force’s choice for its contractor and that contractors’ plans.
“It will take four or five years before you’ll start to see some real activity I would say, on the earliest,” Karas said.
Karas said if they were to set up a staging area, for example, for air conditioning or harnessing, by the time it is planned and built that could take three or four years. “When they snap that chalk line to say go, we’ve got to be ready and that’s why we’re doing the preparation work here – getting to know the local capability. If you don’t and wait to do it in the middle of the three years, you’re going to be rushed and ill prepared,” Karas said.
Karas has been involved in similar work for several programs in Florida and Texas. Those programs involved going into the community, building up capabilities and working with the Chamber, politicians and local industries, he said. “I don’t see it any different here,” he said.
For the airmen
“Everything that we’re doing is really for the Air Force base and for the airmen that are going to be here today and be supporting the nuclear deterrent for the next 50 years,” Karas said.
“Some of the things in our design that we’re doing are about making the airmen more protected and more secure, trying to make sure that when they have to do maintenance and operations it will be in a better environment so it’s really important that we keep them first and foremost when we’re doing this because it’s really about the young men and women that maintain and if necessary, have to operate the system. That’s a big part of our design,” he said.
Many people with ICBM backgrounds, including Deppe, Baker and Gallegos, all Air Force veterans, are on the Lockheed Martin team. Deppe, an expert in missiles, retired from the Air Force after a 42-year career. He completed his career as vice commander of Air Force Space Command.
Karas has a background in large space system development whether it’s missiles or ground systems. One of his previous positions was as vice president and general manager of Lockheed Martin’s Human Space flight line of business, which is highlighted by the multi-billion Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle program.
“I know one thing, it’s going to take a lot more people than any single wing or any single state where the wings are to do this job,” Karas said, of the GBSD program. “That’s another reason why we’ve got to utilize everybody we can locally and go look at other infrastructures that we might have to put here or somewhere else to get the job done. It’s a giant task.”
Team members said Wednesday that their visit to Minot and the other two communities is the first of many.