October 6, 2017

Air Force awards contracts for next-generation ICBM airborne launch control system

Capt. Greg Carter, a deputy missile combat crew commander-airborne from the 625th Strategic Operations Squadron, launches a simulated Minuteman III missile aboard a U.S. Navy E-6B Mercury during Glory Trip 220 above the Pacific Ocean, April 25, 2017. Glory Trip is an operational test launch which continues a long history of launches from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., used to verify, validate and improve the capability of the nation’s ICBM force.

The Air Force awarded two contracts Oct. 3 for upgrading the system that enables an aircraft to control an intercontinental ballistic missile’s launch from a silo in the ground.

The three-year contracts of about $81 million each were awarded to Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Littleton, Colo., and Rockwell Collins, Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

The awards begin a design competition for upgrading the nuclear command-and-control mission system that provides U.S. Strategic Command with the capability to launch ICBMs through commands from the Navy’s E-6B Mercury aircraft. Both the current Minuteman III and future Ground Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD) ICBMs require an alternate launch control capability should anything interfere with the ability of the ground-based facilities to launch ICBMs.

For the Minuteman III, the current Airborne Launch Control System provides this capability through 1960s-era radio equipment at each of 450 Air Force ICBM launch facilities in the United States and aging equipment on the Mercury aircraft. The control system’s replacement will provide a sustainable and low-cost capability to launch ICBMs through aircraft commands.

“We are developing a modular system that can be easily upgraded to address new technologies and threats as they emerge,” said Maj. Gen. Scott Jansson, commander of the Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center and program executive officer for strategic systems.

The goal of the center’s program office at Hill AFB is to field the upgraded replacement system by 2024.

“The Airborne Launch Control System provides the strategic capability of survivable airborne command and control for the Air Force’s fleet of ICBMs,” said Col. Scott Jones, the center’s ICBM Systems director. “The new system will be a timely replacement of the legacy system and provide continued ICBM airborne command-and-control capability through 2075.”

The Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center is responsible for synchronizing all aspects of nuclear materiel management on behalf of Air Force Materiel Command in direct support of Air Force Global Strike Command. Headquartered at Kirtland AFB, N.M., the center has about 1,100 personnel assigned to 17 locations worldwide, including at Hanscom AFB, Mass.; Hill AFB; Eglin AFB, Fla.; Tinker AFB, Okla.; and Ramstein AB, Germany.

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