Northrop Grumman team in Minot making plans for new ICBM

Eloise Ogden/MDN This Minuteman III ICBM launch control center is in the Minot missile field. The Air Force will replace the entire ICBM system, including the weapon systems command and control, flight, launch and ground systems, and cyber elements through the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent program.

Making plans for the nation’s next-generation intercontinental ballistic missile system at Minot Air Force Base and other ICBM bases brought a team from Northrop Grumman to Minot this week.

Military contractors Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin and Boeing submitted proposals this past year for the first portion of the multi-billion dollar, long-term program to replace the Minuteman III ICBMs.

On Wednesday, the Northrop Grumman team met with representatives of the Minot Area Chamber of Commerce and Task Force 21 and Mayor Chuck Barney.

“The primary reason we’re here today is to make sure we leverage the partnership that we have with these communities and with Minot in particular, and understand the unique opportunities and challenges associated with this community – understanding the impact the oil industry has had on this community, the benefits it has had to the infrastructure and the unique challenges that it might bring as we come forward with the next generation system. It’s really important for us to understand those challenges and opportunities today so that we can incorporate that into our design going forward,” Carol Erikson, vice president of the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent or GBSD program at Northrop Grumman in Redondo Beach, Calif., told the Minot Daily News in an interview Wednesday.

The ICBM system is a critical component of the nuclear triad (land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles, strategic bombers and submarine-launched ballistic missiles), Erickson said.

“It’s part of what has kept our nation safe for the last 60 years,” she said. “It is the land-based leg of the triad and it consists of all the missiles, command and control, launch facilities and the infrastructure.”

There are 450 ICBMs across the Midwest including 150 of them in north central and northwest North Dakota. The Minot missiles are operated, maintained and secured by Minot AFB’s 91st Missile Wing.

“Those missiles were initially designed and developed, and installed in the 1960s and have been maintained and sustained for over 50 years. In order to move forward and keep our nation safe for years to come, the nation needs to upgrade and modernize the system. It’s a complete new system with new missiles, new command and control… The only thing that is basically staying the same is the silos,” Erikson said.

The Minot community will benefit in multiple ways from the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent program, according to Erikson.

“It will bring a long-term sustained presence; the importance of Minot Air Force Base will continue to be a very strong presence here in the community.”

Once on contract and as Northrop Grumman moves forward, she said there will be increased interactions with local business owners and landowners to work through and understand the unique challenges and opportunities.

“As we move forward to deploy the system, there will be a presence of the Air Force here as well as multiple companies interacting with local contractors to deploy the system and maintain it going forward,” Erikson said.

A 30-year veteran of Northrop Grumman and its heritage company, TRW, Erikson has a strong background in systems engineering, starting right out of college at TRW. She has worked as a systems engineer supporting most of the major satellite systems that TRW and Northrop Grumman been responsible for. She also has a strong background in program management and subcontract management.

“That combination of systems engineering, program management and subcontract management is what brought me to GBSD because we really see it as the biggest systems engineering challenge for our company and for the nation,” Erikson said.

Northrop Grumman invented system engineering to support the ICBM system more than 60 years ago, according to Erikson.

“In 1954 the Air Force reached out to Simon Ramo, one of the founding members of TRW which was acquired by Northrop Grumman, and asked for Ramo’s leadership in designing and developing the nation’s first ICBM. In order to deal with the complexities of that system, Simon Ramo invented the discipline called systems engineering,” she said.

Systems engineering focuses on designing and managing complex systems such as the Minuteman ICBM over their life cycles.

“We invented systems engineering at Northrop Grumman, and we’ve matured it and applied it to numerous government systems since that time,” Erikson said.

Team visits other

ICBM communities

The Northop Grumman team also visited two other communities near ICBM bases – Cheyenne, Wyo., near F.E. Warren AFB and Great Falls, Mont., near Malmstrom AFB.

“This is our first visit for our GBSD team here but the team that we brought with us has a very longstanding presence in this community,” Erikson said during the visit to Minot.

Members of the team besides Erikson are retired Lt. Gen. James Kowalski, former deputy commander of U.S. Strategic Command and commander of Air Force Global Strike Command; retired Brig. Gen. Russ Anarde, former commander of the 91st Missile Wing and former 741st Missile Squadron commander; retired Col. Tom Cullen, a 27-year ICBM officer, including former combat crew member with the 740th Missile Squadron at Minot AFB and commander of the 10th Missile Squadron at Malmstrom AFB; and Sally Koris, GBSD communications lead.

Kowalski is corporate lead executive for Northrop Grumman in Shreveport/Bossier City, La.; Anarde is corporate lead executive for Northrop Grumman in Colorado Springs, Colo.; and Cullen is with Northrop Grumman GBSD Business Development, also in Colorado Springs.

The next-generation missiles will be ICBMs but when they are fielded likely will have a new name.

Northrop Grumman’s currently competing for the Technical Maturation and Risk Reduction, or TMRR, phase, Erikson said. She said it is a three-year contract that will basically culminate in the preliminary design.

The Air Force intends to award two contracts and three companies, one of them Northrop Grumman, are competing for the two slots.

“This is the first phase and then at the end of this phase in 2020 the Air Force will hold another competition,” Erikson said. She said one contractor then will be selected who would be responsible for the development and production of the system.

Program timeline

If everything stays on track, Erikson said the initial installation would be in the late 2020s. “The final operating capability would be in the late 2030s. In order to install over 400 missiles and get the system completely operational and make sure you do the transition from Minuteman III into the next system will be basically a 10-year deployment cycle,” she said.

The total new-generation missile program is projected to cost in the $60 billion range for design, development, production and sustainment out through 2075, Erikson said. She said a five-year budget has been appropriated for the program and includes the design phase and the first year or two of the production phase as well.

The present Minuteman III ICBMs will need to be maintained through the end of the 2030s until the transition to the new missile system can be completed, Erikson said. “We’ll be able to start phasing some out at the end of the 2020s but the complete phase out wouldn’t happen until the end of the 2030s.”

Northop Grumman has had a presence in Minot for many years, starting in 1963 with the first installation of Minuteman and being involved in the community ever since, Erikson said.

“Over the course of the last 20 years Northrop Grumman was the lead prime integration contractor for the Air Force that led all the sustainment and modernization of Minuteman,” she said. “We led all of the upgrades to the system over the course of those 18 years and managed all of the contractors and subcontractors and had a very strong presence here in the community and a very strong partnership with the Chamber and Task Force 21 as a result of that involvement. Today we are the leads for the Ground Subsystem Sustainment contract which is the largest sustainment contract in the Minuteman system today. That also helps us maintain a very strong presence here.”

Northrop Grumman also has a longtime presence in New Town. The manufacturing site there has been in operation for more than 40 years and employs more than 100 people, Erikson said.

In 2015 Northrop Grumman broke ground for a 36,000-square-foot facility at Grand Forks AFB to establish a nucleus for the company’s unmanned aircraft systems.

The Air Force is scheduled to award the two Technical Maturation and Risk Reduction contracts for the new missile on Sept. 12.

Erikson said both understanding the past and the capabilities of the Minuteman system as well as being uniquely positioned to develop tomorrow’s weapon system is an important part of plans for the new missile.

She said Northrop Grumman is bringing to the program its “world-class experience in command and control, our missile defense knowledge which gives us unique insight into the threats against this nation, our national leadership in cyber security and cyber resiliency which is going to be critically important for the future and our ability to design autonomous systems. We demonstrate that locally with our Global Hawk program that’s present here in North Dakota.”

Currently Northrop Grumman has an initial design for the new missile, Erikson said. She said once they get on contract they will be able to interface with the Air Force and interface more frequently with the local communities as they move forward to develop the design.