The Air Force on Tuesday awarded a $13.3 billion contract for engineering and development work on a replacement for the Minuteman 3 missile, which has operated continuously for half a century as a key part of the nuclear force.
Critics call the replacement project wasteful and dangerous. Critics, however, say the $13.3 billion sole-source contract for Northrop Grumman is driven more by political inertia than military necessity.
Democrat Joe Biden has not said whether he would, if elected in November, support the project, known officially as the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent. The project has bipartisan support in Congress.
Award of the contract to Northrop Grumman is a big step in a project that is estimated to eventually cost at least $85 billion.
Modernization of the nuclear force is a top priority. The new intercontinental ballistic missile is envisioned as just one part of a complete replacement of the nuclear force, including a new fleet of Navy ballistic missile submarines, a new nuclear-capable Air Force bomber, a new air-launched nuclear cruise missile, and a new command and control system. The total bill is expected to approach $1.2 trillion.
“The highest probability of starting a nuclear war is a mistaken launch caused by a false alarm and a rushed decision to launch nuclear-armed ICBMs,” William J. Perry, who served as defense secretary in the Clinton administration, said in a written statement. “Instead of spending billions of dollars on new nuclear missiles we don’t need, we must focus on preventing accidental nuclear war.”