Arthur J. Villasanta – Fourth Estate Contributor
Washington, DC, United States (4E) – The U.S. Air Force has set in motion the process that will replace the 45 year-old LGM-30 Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) with a newer and more powerful nuclear weapon delivery system called the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD).
The Air Force has awarded contracts to Northrop Grumman and Boeing to build GBSD, which will become the land based portion of the US Nuclear Triad.
GBSD will totally overhaul the entire ICBM system operated by the Air Force. The GBSD program, which will cost anywhere from $63 billion to $85 billion, will see the development of new missiles; new launch control buildings and the logistical and communications infrastructure that supports the ICBM fleet.
Only the Minuteman II missile will be replaced, however. The ICBM’s nuclear warheads will be taken from existing Minuteman III missiles.
Minuteman III carries either the W78 (335-350 kilotons) or W87 (300-475 kiloton) thermonuclear warheads. It’s the only land-based ICBM in service in the United States.
The Air Force intends the GBSD missile to remain in service until 2075. It will attain this aim by making the new missile using open architecture engineering that allows easy component upgrades. As the missiles constantly need to be on alert, a high level of reliability is paramount.
The Air Force plans to purchase some 642 GBSDs. Of this number, 450 missiles will be housed in existing Minuteman IIIs silos while the remaining 192 missiles will be used for test flights; kept in storage as replacements and periodically launched as a spot-check to ensure the viability of the overall force.
Performance of the GBSD will likely be similar to that of the Minuteman III. While the Minuteman III can reach out to over 8,100 miles, GBSD will probably have a range in excess of this. Minutemen III can deliver 50 percent of its warheads to within 200 yards of their targets.
The Air Force currently deploys 400 Minuteman III ICBMs. Each Minuteman carries from one to three independently targetable thermonuclear warheads.
Minuteman III was the first multiple independently targetable reentry vehicle (MIRV) ICBM to be deployed.
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