Inside Defense: Senate lawmaker seeks clarity from Air Force on GBSD time line

Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT) has requested a meeting with Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James to discuss the milestone A review for the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent System, congressional sources told Inside the Air Force this week.

Daines previously questioned why the Air Force had not reached its milestone A decision for the Minuteman III’s replacement during an April 20 Senate Armed Services Committee hearing with Pentagon acquisition chief Frank Kendall.

Kendall assured Daines that GBSD’s timeline remains on track, but that his office was waiting on an independent cost estimate, a legal prerequisite to declaring milestone A.

“So I have to satisfy that legal requirement in order to have the milestone A, as a dot-on-the-wall of something you did,” he said. “That does not slow down releasing the RFP industry, which is the substance of what we’re doing. So I’m going to hit milestone A as soon as I can.”

The RFP release will come within weeks, but signing milestone A is dependent upon the cost analysis office giving the Pentagon a better cost estimate, Kendall said. Milestone A could come in June, but Kendall cautioned he did not have control over that aspect of the time line.

The milestone A shift is a fairly new change, Eric Single, chief of Air Force Global Strike Division acquisition, told ITAF in an April 11 interview. Although the Air Force would like to complete milestone A before releasing the RFP, the key documents for the RFP are the acquisition strategy, test plan and systems engineering plan, he said. Those three documents are complete and are in final work, so the Air Force was comfortable receiving proposals while the service continues to track additional requirements such as the independent cost estimate, he said.

“Milestone A is a statutory certification before you start [technology maturation risk and reduction],” he said. “So it really needs to be done just prior to contract award.”

The Air Force is able to release the RFP without an independent cost estimate because the service already has a program cost estimate, he said. However, the cost estimate doesn’t impact the RFP since the service will have a negotiated settlement with industry, Single added.

“What is important for the RFP is the scope of the work that we want done in TMRR, so we have to very much detail and describe that,” he said. “The proposal itself details the exact work in TMRR and then industry will come back with a proposal on how they would accomplish that work, what they think the cost would be to do that and then we do the negotiation.”

Meanwhile, GBSD’s potential mobile option could face political headwinds as the Senate draws up its defense policy bill. An amendment included in the House Armed Services Committee’s version of the fiscal year 2017 defense policy bill prohibits funds for a mobile variant of the GBSD, ITAF previously reported. Offered by Rep. Rick Larsen (D-WA), the language blocks funds in FY-17 and FY-18 to retain or develop a mobile option for GBSD.

The Air Force first tossed up the idea of a mobile ground missile fleet during the Cold War. But in 1961, the Pentagon quashed plans for a rail-operated system, instead opting for more underground sites.

“I sponsored this amendment to press the Air Force to focus on modernizing the ground-based leg of the nuclear triad, instead of developing unnecessary capabilities,” Larsen said in a May 4 email to ITAF. “By prohibiting mobility, [the House Armed Services Committee] is saving taxpayers billions by rejecting a scheme that was unwanted and unworkable even when our country was facing grave nuclear threats during the height of the Cold War.”