Air Force awards contracts to update ICBM airborne launch-control system

HILL AIR FORCE BASE, Utah. The Air Force recently awarded a pair of contracts aimed at upgrading the system that enables an aircraft to control the launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) from a silo in the ground. The three-year contracts were awarded to Lockheed Martin Space Systems (Littleton, Colorado), and Rockwell Collins (Cedar Rapids, Iowa).

Minuteman III photo: USAF and Boeing

The awards --  in the amount of approximately $81 million for Lockheed Martin and $76 million in the case of Rockwell Collins -- kick off a design competition between the two firms for upgrading the nuclear command-and-control mission system that provides U.S. Strategic Command with the capability to launch ICBMs through commands from the Navy’s E-6B Mercury aircraft. Both the current Minuteman III and the yet-to-be-fielded Ground Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD) ICBMs require an alternate launch-control capability should anything interfere with the ability of the ground-based facilities to launch ICBMs.

The current Airborne Launch Control System provides the alternate-launch capability for the Minuteman III through 1960s-era radio equipment at each of 450 Air Force launch facilities in the United States in concert with aging equipment on the Mercury aircraft. The launch control system’s replacement is aimed at providing a sustainable and low-cost capability to launch ICBMs through aircraft commands.

The Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center's program office at Hill AFB intends to field the upgraded replacement system by 2024.

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