US defense manufacturers Boeing and Northrop Grumman have been jointly awarded the first stage in a giant contract to revamp the United State's nuclear missile fleet.
The US Air Force awarded Boeing a $349m contract and Northrop Grumman a similar $329m one to order to advance new intercontinental nuclear missile technology.
Specifically, the Air Force is looking for a replacement for its aging fleet of Minuteman III missiles, many of which date back to the 1970s.
These missiles, which are currently the only land-based nuclear missile in service in the US arsenal are predicted to vulnerable to certain countermeasures available within the next two decades.
Boeing was the prime manufacturer of the Minuteman III and thus its inclusion in this project was almost assured as it is one of the few companies in the US with recent experience in building ICBMs.
“Since the first Minuteman launch in 1961, the U.S. Air Force has relied on our technologies for a safe, secure and reliable ICBM force,” said Frank McCall, Boeing director of Strategic Deterrence Systems and GBSD program manager.
“As the Air Force prepares to replace the Minuteman III, we will once again answer the call by drawing on the best of Boeing to deliver the capability, flexibility and affordability the mission requires.”
Lockheed Martin on the other hand also bid for some of this development money, however, was in the end not chosen to take part in the program. The company has announced that it will attempt to appeal this decision by the Air Force.
Once a design has been finalized the companies will compete for a much larger contract in 2020 to actually manufacture these missiles.
This manufacturing contract would be one of the largest defense contracts in US history, with some estimates putting it in excess of $85bn.
Given the size of the deal, as well as recent global pressure towards nuclear disarmament, it is very politically contentious.
Nonetheless, US president Donald Trump has committed to reinforcing all aspects of the US’s nuclear deterrent, something which could be seen as more justified in the face of the nuclear threat posed by North Korea.