Timeline: Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent Program

The Pentagon is currently planning to replace its current arsenal of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) with a brand-new missile force, known as the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD); it is estimated to cost approximately $100 billion in acquisition fees and $264 billion throughout its lifecycle until 2075 (in Then-Year dollars).

Below, you will find a timeline of all relevant actions taken with regards to the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent program, including acquisition milestones, contract awards, and expected deployment schedules.

As information is learned and shared, the FAS team aims to update this timeline with new developments. Clicking the [+] symbol will reveal more information about each item.

Click here to return to the master timeline, which includes additional items relating to international treaties, government studies, force posture changes, and Congressional action relating to the ICBM force.

March 2010: US Strategic Command sends an ICBM memo to Air Force Global Strike Command calling for an immediate start to a follow-on ICBM.

The memo indicates that the Air Force would have to begin a procurement effort for a follow-on ICBM immediately, if the Air Force planned to deploy it in the 2030 timeframe.*

*Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center, Intelligence and Capabilities Integration Directorate (AFNWC/XR), “Request for Information 12122011” (December 2011), US General Services Administration.

May 2011: Air Force Global Strike Command completes its Capabilities-Based Assessment for the proposed GBSD program.

A Capabilities-Based Assessment (CBA) is one of the earliest elements of the defense acquisition process. It is used to identify the capabilities required to conduct a particular mission, determine whether there are potential capability gaps in the current system and evaluate their associated risks, and provide abstract recommendations for addressing those gaps. This analysis feeds into the subsequent Initial Capabilities Document, which the Air Force completed for the GBSD in May 2012.

December 2011: The Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center issues a Request For Information for the proposed GBSD program.

This RFI – which was based on the conclusions reached in the CBA and still-in-progress Initial Capabilities Document, was intended to solicit “concepts that address modernization or replacement of the ground based leg of the nuclear triad.”* It was one of the first public documents offering significant insight into how the Air Force was imagining the GBSD system at the time.  Notably, the Air Force suggested that contractors could “propose innovative deployment and basing strategies, including, but not limited to mobile basing, fixed basing with mobile elements, or hardened silos, in addition to or in place of existing Minuteman III infrastructure.”

*Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center, Intelligence and Capabilities Integration Directorate (AFNWC/XR), “Request for Information RFI-12122011” (December 2011), US General Services Administration.

4 June 2012: Air Force Global Strike Command completes its Initial Capabilities Document for the proposed GBSD program.

An Initial Capabilities Document (ICD) further refines the analysis of the Capabilities-Based Assessment, justifies the need for a material change to the system, and provides a list of capabilities that the proposed new system would need to fulfill. This analysis is required for the acquisition process to proceed. The ICD suggested the following capability requirements for the GBSD: adaptable, effective, flexible, global, reliable, responsive, safe, secure, survivable, sustainable, transportable.

Image: Government Accountability Office.

8 August 2012: The Joint Requirements Oversight Council approves the Air Force's Initial Capabilities Document and directs it to begin the Analysis of Alternatives process.

The Analysis of Alternatives (AoA) process is a critical component of the defense acquisition process.* It compares the effectiveness, suitability, and life-cycle costs of each proposed material solution, and is therefore a key document that influences the system’s ultimate development and acquisition.

*United States Air Force, “Cost Comparison of Extending the Life of the Minuteman III Intercontinental Ballistic Missile to Replacing it with a Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent: Report to Congress,” Department of Defense (July 2016), p. 4.

January 2013: The Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center issues a Broad Agency Announcement for the GBSD program.

The Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) is intended to solicit white papers from industry with the purpose of further developing the GBSD design, specifically with an eye towards exploring new basing concepts. In the BAA, the Air Force listed five basing options for further consideration and refinement: “continued use”, “current fixed”, “new fixed”, “new mobile”, and “new tunnel.”*

*Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center, Program Development and Integration Directorate (AFNWC/XZ), “Broad Agency Announcement BAA-AFNWC-XZ-13-001Rev2” (14 January 2013), US General Services Administration.

July 2014: The Air Force completes its Analysis of Alternatives for the GBSD.

The Air Force’s AoA for the GBSD program recommended a complete replacement of the Minuteman III ICBM with The AoA offered four discrete reasons for its consequential recommendation, noting that a replacement would: address capability gaps and improve performance against current and expected threats; maintain the large solid rocket motor industrial base; share subcomponent commonality with the Navy’s ballistic missiles; and be cheaper than the cost of life-extending the Minuteman IIIs.* In hindsight, and upon further scrutiny, these assumptions appear to have either been flawed, exaggerated, or deprioritized.

*United States Air Force, “Cost Comparison of Extending the Life of the Minuteman III Intercontinental Ballistic Missile to Replacing it with a Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent: Report to Congress,” Department of Defense (July 2016), p. 4.

23 January 2015: The Air Force issues another Request For Information for the GBSD program.

In this RFI, the Air Force offered some additional public information about the proposed GBSD weapon system characteristics, specifically noting that they sought a replacement system that “replaces the entire flight system, retains the silo basing mode while recapitalizing the infrastructure, and implements a new Weapon System Command and Control (WSC2) system.”* Additionally, the RFI stated that the GBSD would utilize the existing Mk12A and Mk21 Reentry Vehicles, in addition to a brand-new missile stack and a potentially reduced number of launch control systems and launch facilities.

*Air Force Materiel Command Lifecycle Management Center, Hill Air Force Base, “Request for Information RFI #1, Ground Based Strategic Deterrent,” Contract Opportunity FA8219-15-R-GBSD-RFI1 (23 January 2015).

February 2015: The Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center completes its initial GBSD cost estimate.

The cost estimate of $62.3 billion (in Then Year dollars) for 642 missiles over a 30-year period was eventually disclosed to the public on 5 June 2015. The total amount includes $48.5 billion for the missiles themselves, $6.9 billion for command and control systems, and $6.9 billion to renovate and upgrade the launch control centers and launch facilities.

November 2015: The Pentagon's Office of Cost Assessment Program Evaluation completes its review of the GBSD Program.

The Office of Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation (CAPE), the Pentagon’s independent budgetary and cost estimation assessment team, estimated that the GBSD would cost between $85 billion and $100 billion (in Then Year dollars) – a discrepancy more than one-third higher than the Air Force’s original estimate. The Pentagon ultimately selected the lower $85 billion number for the GBSD program.

29 July 2016: The Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center releases its Request For Proposals for the GBSD Technology Maturation and Risk Reduction contract.

The Technology Maturation and Risk Reduction phase of a defense acquisition program seeks to reduce technology and list-cycle cost risks, and further refine the requirements of the proposed system. In the RFP, the Air Force noted its intention to award up to two contracts for the TMRR phase of the GBSD program, which was scheduled to last approximately 36 months.

23 August 2016: Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics approves the Milestone A decision for the GBSD program.

With the Under Secretary’s decision, the GBSD program formally entered the Technology Maturation and Risk Reduction phase of the acquisition process.* The Acquisition Decision Memorandum that was produced in conjunction with the decision accepted CAPE’s higher estimate of $85 billion for the production of 666 missiles and associated infrastructure costs.

*Now called the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment.

12 October 2016: Deadline for TMRR proposals.

The Air Force received three submissions: Boeing, Northrop Grumman, and Lockheed Martin.

21 August 2017: The Air Force awards TMRR contracts to Boeing and Northrop Grumman.

The Air Force awarded two 36-month contracts for the TMRR phase of the GBSD program – one to Boeing for $349.2 million (FA8219-17-C-0001) and one to Northrop Grumman for $328.6 million (FA8219-17-C-0002). Nine days later, Lockheed Martin announced its intention not to protest its exclusion from the competition.

17 September 2017: Northrop Grumman agrees to terms of purchase with Orbital ATK for approximately $7.8 billion.

Over the past several decades, corporate consolidation in the defense industry has dramatically reduced the number of large solid rocket motor producers in the United States. In 1990 there were five, by 2017 there were only two remaining––Orbital ATK and Aerojet Rocketdyne. To that end, Northrop Grumman’s acquisition of Orbital ATK would offer it a serious bidding advantage over Boeing––its only competitor for the GBSD program.

March 2018: The Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center drafts a memo seeking “Justification and Approval (J&A) for Other Than Full and Open Competition” for the GBSD program.

Since “full and open competition” for contracts is required by law, an awarding agency must submit a “Justification and Approval” (J&A) request in order to circumvent this procedure. The Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center’s J&A request suggested that limiting the solicitation of the GBSD’s Engineering and Manufacturing Development (EMD) contract to just two bidders––Boeing and Northrop Grumman––would be acceptable because “typically, expected cost savings from a competition come from a competition premium––the cost savings which come from competing a contract rather than soliciting a single supplier. In this case, the [Air Force] expects to obtain a competition premium despite the exclusion of sources, because the selection will be a competition between the two TMRR offerors [sic].”* Given that the EMD contract was ultimately sole-sourced to Northrop Grumman in September 2020, these expected cost savings are unlikely to be realized. The J&A request was ultimately approved by Assistant Secretary of the Air Force William B. Roper, Jr. on 26 February 2019.

*“Justification and Approval (J&A) for Other Than Full and Open Competition,” GBSD program document approved by William B. Roper, Jr., Assistant Secretary of the Air Force (Acquisition, Technology & Logistics), 26 February 2019.

June 2018: Northrop Grumman acquires Orbital ATK for $7.8 billion.

The Federal Trade Commission investigated the merger over concerns that it could “substantially lessen competition and […] create a monopoly in the relevant market for missile systems.” Specifically, the FTC expressed concerns that “If Northrop were to foreclose its missile system prime contractor competitors in any of these ways, the United States Government would be harmed because cost of missile systems may increase, innovation may be lessened, and/or quality would be reduced because the United States Government would be less likely to obtain the best possible combination of missile system prime contractor and SRM supplier.” The FTC ultimately did not block the acquisition; however, it ruled that Northrop Grumman was required to “not Discriminate in any Missile Competition where Northrop is currently competing to be the Prime Contractor.” Specifically, Northrop Grumman would have to make its solid rocket motor products and services fully available to Boeing and would not be permitted to share Boeing’s proprietary data with other parts of the Northrop Grumman corporation to gain leverage over its competitor in other projects.

18 June 2019: The GBSD Capability Development Document is validated.

The Capability Development Document specifies the operational requirements for the system that is being developed.*

*Department of the Air Force, “Report on Development of Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent Weapon,” Report to Congressional Committees (May 2020), p. 3.

3 July 2019: Northrop Grumman reportedly signs FTC-mandated firewall agreement for the GBSD program.

This agreement was reportedly signed over a year after the FTC’s ruling, and only five months away from the RFP submission deadline for the GBSD EMD contract. According to Boeing CEO Leanne Caret, this delay did not leave Boeing enough time to negotiate a competitive price for solid rocket motors.

16 July 2019: The Air Force releases its RFP for the Engineering and Manufacturing Development phase of the GBSD program.

The request for proposals process lasted just over a year before the eventual award of the EMD contract to Northrop Grumman in September 2020.

25 July 2019: Boeing announces its withdrawal from the GBSD competition.

In a series of letters addressed to Air Force acquisition executive Will Roper, Boeing Defense and Security CEO Leanne Caret wrote, “We lack confidence in the fairness of any procurement that does not correct this basic imbalance between competitors,” explicitly citing Northrop Grumman’s acquisition of Orbital ATK as evidence that there were “inherently unfair cost, resource and integration advantages” at play.

September 2019: Boeing lobbies both Congress and the Air Force, with the goal of forcing Northrop Grumman into a joint GBSD bid.

Boeing announced that it is actively seeking “government intervention” that would require Northrop Grumman to either add Boeing to its GBSD team as a major subcontractor, or perhaps as a co-equal partner. This effort was ultimately unsuccessful, despite the public support from allies like Senator Doug Jones (D-AL).

3 September 2019: Northrop Grumman formally declines Boeing’s request to form a “best-of-industry GBSD team.”

Boeing officials claimed that a Northrop Grumman-Boeing partnership would produce the GBSD “sooner, and with lower risk than either of us could do alone.” Northrop Grumman declined the offer.

16 September 2019: Northrop Grumman unveils its GBSD team.

Northrop Grumman’s team announcement included the following contractors:

  • Aerojet Rocketdyne: solid-fueled rocket motors, post-boost propulsion
  • General Dynamics: command and control
  • Collins Aerospace: command and control
  • Lockheed Martin: command and control, missile payload integration
  • Textron System: missile payload integration
  • Parsons: engineering, procurement, construction
  • BRPH: architectural and engineering
  • Clark Construction: construction integration
  • L3Harris: training systems
  • Honeywell: guidance, missile electronics

The inclusion of Aerojet Rocketdyne is notable, given Northrop Grumman’s prior acquisition of Orbital ATK. However, it remains unclear how much of the overall large solid rocket motor order will be filled by Aerojet and how much will be filled by Orbital, which has since been renamed “Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems.”

October 2019: The Air Force functionally cancels the remainder of Boeing’s TMRR contract for the GBSD.

Given Boeing’s stated intention to not bid for the EMD contract in December 2019, the Air Force refused to allocate any further funding to Boeing’s TMRR contract. This prompted Boeing to immediately issue a Stop Work notice for all GBSD work, stating that “We believe this work would provide substantial value to the Government, irrespective of the fact that Boeing will not participate as a prime offeror under the current EMD [engineering, manufacturing and development] solicitation structure for the next phase of the GBSD program.”

13 December 2019: The RFP deadline for the GBSD’s Engineering and Manufacturing Development contract passes, with the Air Force only receiving a single bid––that of Northrop Grumman.

Northrop Grumman became the default winner of the EMD contract after Boeing declined to bid on the program.

22 August 2020: CAPE raises its GBSD cost estimate, projecting a new total acquisition cost of $95.8 billion.

This constitutes a near-10 percent increase from the $85 billion figure adopted by the Pentagon in 2016. The cost breakdown is listed as follows: $25.5 billion for research and development, $61.6 billion for missile procurement, and $8.7 billion for military construction, plus an additional $166.6 billion for long-term support costs and $1.4 billion for disposal. CAPE’s projection for the GBSD’s total life-cycle cost is set at $263.9 billion (in Then-Year dollars) through 2075. This new estimate was provided to Congress in September.*

Image: Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment (via FOIA by Matt Korda).
*Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment, “(U) Ground Based Strategic Deterrent Milestone B Summary: Report to Congress,” Department of Defense (September 2020), p. 5, retrieved through FOIA 21-F-0065 on 24 November 2020.

4 September 2020: Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment approves the Milestone B decision for the GBSD program.

A Milestone B approval is necessary in order to award an Engineering and Manufacturing Development contract.*

*Previously called the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics.

8 September 2020: The Air Force awards the $13.3 Engineering and Manufacturing Development contract for the GBSD to Northrop Grumman.

The EMD contract is expected to run through February of 2029, and the contract includes weapon system design, qualification, test and evaluation, and nuclear certification.

25 September 2020: The Air Force issues a Notice of Intent to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement for the GBSD.

The Air Force’s GBSD EIS website reveals that the number of launch control centers at each missile wing will be reduced by nearly half, and that substantial GBSD-related construction is expected to take place at all three ICBM bases, in addition to Hill Air Force Base and the Utah Test and Training Range. 

Image: US Air Force.

Spring 2022: The Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the GBSD is scheduled to be released, and will be available for public comment.

Click here to read the schedule.

2023: Construction and deployment is scheduled to begin at F.E. Warren Air Force Base, and is expected to be completed by 2031.

Click here to learn about the plans for F.E. Warren Air Force Base.*

Image: US Air Force.
*Air Force Global Strike Command, “Environmental Impact Statement for the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent Deployment and Minuteman III Decommissioning and Disposal: Public Scoping Documents” (29 September 2020).

Spring 2023: The Final Environmental Impact Statement for the GBSD is scheduled to be released.

Click here to read the schedule.

2025: Construction and deployment is scheduled to begin at Malmstrom Air Force Base, and is expected to be completed by 2033.

Click here to learn about the plans for Malmstrom Air Force Base.*

Image: US Air Force.
*Air Force Global Strike Command, “Environmental Impact Statement for the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent Deployment and Minuteman III Decommissioning and Disposal: Public Scoping Documents” (29 September 2020).

2026: The NNSA is scheduled to produce up to 30 plutonium pits per year by 2026.

These pits will ultimately be used to produce the W87-1 warhead, which will be used for the GBSD. Given that the United States has not had the capability to produce more than 10 plutonium pits per year for over two decades, it is widely expected that this ambitious schedule will be delayed. 

Image: Government Accountability Office.

2027: Construction and deployment is scheduled to begin at Minot Air Force Base, and is expected to be completed by 2036.

Click here to learn about the plans for Minot Air Force Base.*

Image: US Air Force.
*Air Force Global Strike Command, “Environmental Impact Statement for the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent Deployment and Minuteman III Decommissioning and Disposal: Public Scoping Documents” (29 September 2020).

April-June 2029: The Air Force projects the GBSD to reach Initial Operational Capability.

In order to reach IOC, the GBSD program must complete the Minuteman III-to-GBSD transition for 20 Launch Facilities––each loaded with an in-silo missile and deployed with a Mk21/W87-1 warhead––three Launch Control Centers, and one Integrated Command Center at the same missile wing as the three Launch Control Centers (likely to be F.E. Warren).*

*Department of the Air Force, “Report on Development of Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent Weapon,” Report to Congressional Committees (May 2020).

2030: The NNSA is scheduled to produce up to 80 plutonium pits per year by 2030.

According to the Government Accountability Office, “it is not clear that NNSA will be able to produce sufficient numbers of pits—the fissile cores of the primary—to meet the W87-1 warhead’s planned production schedule.”

Image: Government Accountability Office.

2036: The Air Force projects the GBSD to reach Full Operational Capability.

In order to reach IOC, the GBSD program must complete the Minuteman III-to-GBSD transition for all 450 Launch Facilities, at least 24 Launch Control Centers (eight per wing), three Integrated Command Centers, and command and control infrastructure for all three missile wings.*

*Department of the Air Force, “Report on Development of Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent Weapon,” Report to Congressional Committees (May 2020). 

Click here to return to the master timeline, which includes additional items relating to international treaties, government studies, force posture changes, and Congressional action relating to the ICBM force.