Great Falls Tribune: What does new ICBM milestone mean for Malmstrom?

The Air Force has approved the Milestone A for the ground-based strategic deterrent, meaning the new weapon system meant to replace the Minuteman III, including those at Malmstrom Air Force Base, remains on track.

To reach this point, an analysis of alternatives must be conducted, including cost estimates, concepts of operations, overall risks and comparative effectiveness, according to the Congressional Research Service.

Now that the Air Force has reached Milestone A, the program is in the Technology Maturation and Risk Reduction phase, according to Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James.

At the end of July, the Air Force released a request for proposals for the ground-based strategic deterrent and said up to two contracts are expected in the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2017, which begins Oct. 1, according to the Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center.

The process of developing a follow-on intercontinental ballistic missile is expected to be complicated, James said during her State of the Air Force address earlier this month.

“The magnitude of this type of ICBM work, we have not collectively done it for more than 40 years. And so there is a level of complexity that has to be worked through,” James said. “We haven’t done such a thing in 40 years and so, we’re all getting on the same page. That’s the effort that’s ongoing.”

The current ICBM launch systems, and command and control physical infrastructure in use today first became operational with the Minuteman I system in the 1960s.

Some components and subsystems have been upgraded since, including the transition to the Minuteman III configuration in the 1970s, most of the fundamental infrastructure is original and has supported more than 50 years of continuous operation, according to AFNWC.

The flight systems in use now were fielded in the late 1990s and early 2000s with an intended 20-year lifespan. The Minuteman III system is expected to operate through 2030.

Sens. Steve Daines, R-Mont., and Jon Tester, D-Mont., sent a letter in May to the director of the cost assessment and program evaluation at the Defense Department expressing support for the GBSD and encouraging the DOD to approve Milestone A by the end of the current fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.

“This is great news for maintaining our nation’s ‘peace through strength’ strategy at Montana’s Malmstrom Air Force Base and the security of our nation,” Daines said Thursday. “We must ensure our nuclear capabilities are ready for 21st century warfare. I will continue pushing to guarantee we modernize our nuclear weapons.”