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Northrop Grumman wins $13.3B Air Force contract to build new ICBMs

Northrop Grumman wins $13.3B Air Force contract to build new ICBMs
© RINGO CHIU/AFP via Getty Images

The Air Force has awarded a $13.3 billion contract to Northrop Grumman to build the U.S. military’s next-generation intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), the land-based, long-range missile in the United States’s nuclear arsenal.

“Modernizing the nuclear strategic triad is a top priority of our military,” Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperTrump administration pulls out of Open Skies treaty with Russia The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the UAE Embassy in Washington, DC - Trump, Biden clash over transition holdup, pandemic plans President is wild card as shutdown fears grow MORE said in a news release announcing the contract Tuesday. “It’s key to our nation’s defense. It provides that strategic nuclear deterrent that we depend on day after day – that we’ve depended on decade after decade.”

The new ICBM, which the Pentagon is calling the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent, will replace the aging Minuteman III missiles.

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Work is expected to take about 8 1/2 years, with the new missile being operational in 2029, Northrop said in a news release.

Northrop won the contract after becoming the sole bidder when Boeing dropped out last year.

“Our nation is facing a rapidly evolving threat environment and protecting our citizens with a modern strategic deterrent capability has never been more critical,” Northrop CEO Kathy Warden said in a statement. “With more than 65 years of technical leadership on every ICBM system, our nationwide team is honored and committed to continuing our partnership with the U.S. Air Force to deliver a safe, secure and effective system that will contribute to global stability for years to come.”

The new program is expected to be worth at least $85 billion over the next several decades.

The program has long been a target for Democrats and nuclear nonproliferation advocates who argue the estimated $1.2 trillion price tag for the United States’s total nuclear modernization plans is too costly and have instead urged studies on extending the life of the Minuteman III.

Some advocates also argue the land component of the nuclear triad should be eliminated altogether because the high-alert status of the missiles, which are stored in silos in the United States, risks starting an accidental nuclear war over a false alarm.

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“Our nation faces major security challenges, including a global pandemic that has killed almost 200,000 Americans, and we shouldn’t spend our limited resources on new nuclear weapons that we don’t need and make us less safe,” former Defense Secretary William Perry said in a statement Tuesday released by the Ploughshares Fund, a nuclear nonproliferation group.

“The highest probability of starting a nuclear war is a mistaken launch caused by a false alarm and a rushed decision to launch nuclear-armed ICBMs,” Perry said. “Instead of spending billions of dollars on new nuclear missiles we don’t need, we must focus on preventing accidental nuclear war.”

Updated at 8:31 p.m.