The US aerospace giant Boeing has been struggling joining the US Air Force’s $63 billion ICBM competition. Boeing’s trouble started after Northrop rejected its offer to jointly develop the USAF’s next ICBM (Intercontinental Ballistic Missile).

But Boeing has no plans to leave the ICBM contest, instead, it's calling for the US government intervention against the prime contractor Northrop Grumman in the multibillion-dollar ICBM competition.

As mentioned earlier in the financial news site The Motley Fool, Boeing has accused the Virginia-based Northrop Grumman of unfair competition.

The aerospace giant said that the USAF’s Ground Based Strategic Deterrent program’s structure did not provide a level playing field on which Boeing could compete fairly for the multibillion-dollar defense contract.

Boeing stated that the last year’s acquisition of Orbital ATK, a leading producer of large solid-fueled rocket motors, by Northrop Grumman placed it at a very competitive disadvantage because it gives Northrop an overwhelming market control of the essential part of the ICBM system, the solid-fueled rocket motors.

Orbital ATK (now owned by Northrop Grumman) and Aerojet Rocketdyne are the two major providers of the solid-fueled rocket motors in the US market. Last year, the Virginia-based Northrop has spent a whopping $9.2 billion to acquire one of the two primary providers of solid rocket motors (SRM) in the US market.

This recent Northrop Grumman’s deal, which gave the company full control or ownership of the leading rocket provider Orbital ATK, is at the heart of Boeing’s complaint. Boeing also added that the USAF takes no steps to mitigate Northrop Grumman’s anticompetitive practice, stating some resource and integration advantages.

Boeing has also complained that Northrop has not met its obligations under the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) regarding its recent acquisition.

However, the FTC has approved the Northrop-Orbital ATK deal, with support from the US Defense Department, with two conditions. The first one is that Northrop offers SRMs on a discriminatory basis to other providers competing in the defense contracts. The second one is that the Pentagon (US Defense Department) should designate a compliance officer to oversee Northrop’s adherence to the agreement, according to Defense News.

About the USAF Minuteman III

The Minuteman III is a three-stage, solid-fueled, land-based intercontinental ballistic missile and the only ICBM in service in the US Air Force. Development of the Minutemen weapon system began in the 1950s. The Minuteman missile was named for the Colonial Minuteman of the American Revolutionary War, which according to US historians are ready to fight enemies on short notice. Like the Colonial Minuteman of the American Revolutionary War, the Minuteman III is also ready to be fired on short notice and has a fast launch time.

Through regular technology upgrades, the Minuteman weapon system has evolved to meet new challenges and fast-evolving environment. The USAF’s series of modernization programs and regular upgrades have resulted, improved accuracy and reliability, improved lethality and survivability, and expanded targeting options.

The latest and existing version, the LGM-30G Minuteman III, is the result of the almost 60 years of intense ballistic missile research and continuous improvements. The 78,000-pound missile has a maximum range of over 13,000 km and was the first US ICBM fitted with MIRV or multiple independently targetable reentry vehicle.

The US Air Force Global Strike Command currently maintained a deployed force of over 450 Minuteman III missiles. These missiles are deployed in hardened missile silos throughout the vast plains of Montana, North Dakota and Wyoming. The USAF plans to keep these aging missiles in service until 2030.

About the GBSD, the future weapon system

The USAF’s Ground Based Strategic Deterrent program is the replacement for the aging Minuteman III ICBM weapon system that has provided an important part of the country’s strategic force for over 45 years.

The GBSD has become one of the US Defense Department’s top priorities, along with the B-21 strategic bomber and the upcoming Colombia-class nuclear attack submarine. In 2017, the USAF awarded a huge military contract to Boeing and Northrop Grumman to develop new ICBM designs to replace the aging Minuteman ICBM fleet. The Maryland-based Lockheed Martin, which currently the world’s largest defense contractor, has also joined the ICBM competition but was eliminated in 2017, according to The Motley Fool.

In July 2019, Boeing surprising dropped out from the competition, leaving Northrop Grumman as the sole remaining bidder of the country’s massive GBSD contest. On September 16, Northrop Grumman officially revealed the list of subcontractor companies that will join the Northrop’s led ICBM team.

The list includes some of the powerful and experienced companies in the defense industry. These include Lockheed Martin, L3 Harris Technologies, General Dynamics, Honeywell, Collin Aerospace, Textron and Aerojet Rocketdyne.

The Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent program is one of the largest procurement contracts. It’s a first serious step in the US Defense Department’s $500 billion plan to modernize its entire nuclear arsenal, which includes the US Navy’s Trident submarine-launched ballistic missile, the USAF’s land-based Minuteman ICBM and nuclear-armed strategic bombers.