This story was updated to include comments from Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin and Boeing.
WASHINGTON — The Pentagon has selected Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman to go head-to-head in a competition to provide a next-generation interceptor to replace the ground-based interceptors in Alaska and California that are designed to defend the United States against ballistic missile attacks from North Korea and Iran.
Boeing submitted a bid with team members General Atomics Electromagnetic Systems and Aerojet Rocketdyne to build the Next-Generation Interceptor (NGI), but was not chosen to continue on in the effort. The company has an extensive history with the Ground-based Midcourse Defense system in place at Fort Greely, Alaska, and Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, having held the development and sustainment contract for years.
The contract has an estimated maximum value of $1.6 billion through fiscal 2022 and will carry both designs into the technology development and risk reduction phase of the program, according to a March 23 Pentagon announcement. “This award will ensure NGI is an efficient and effective part of an integrated Missile Defense System solution,” the statement read.
The Pentagon announced in August 2019 its intention to build a new NGI after the Redesigned Kill Vehicle (RKV) program — that would upgrade the GBI with the ability to go after more complex threats more reliably — was abruptly killed. RKV struggled with insurmountable technical issues resulting in delayed schedules and cost increases.
Roughly eight months later, MDA released a request for proposals for its NGI with the aim to downselect to two companies who would then compete for the right to build the interceptor.
A Northrop Grumman and Raytheon team announced its intention to bid together in May 2020.
Lockheed Martin teamed up with Aerojet Rocketdyne in October. The company announced its plans to buy Aerojet in December.
“NGI is the result of the first holistic technical assessment of homeland defenses the department has conducted since initial system operations began in 2004,” Vice Adm. Jon Hill, the director of Missile Defense Agency, said in the statement.
“By planning to carry two vendors through technology development, MDA will maximize the benefits of competition to deliver the most effective and reliable homeland defense missile to the warfighter as soon as possible. Once fielded, this new homeland defense interceptor will be capable of defeating expected threat advances into the 2030s and beyond,” he added.
The down-select to two competitors for NGI was expected late last year, but approval of the plan was delayed until the defense secretary and deputy defense secretary in the new Biden Administration were in place.
The NGI program “is critical to our nation’s protection. Northrop Grumman and Raytheon Technologies bring an innovative solution meeting the threat’s complexity with advanced technology and industry leading domain knowledge, which answers all the threat scenarios,” Scott Lehr, Northrop vice president and general manager for launch and missile defense, and Bryan Rosselli, Raytheon’s vice president of strategic missile defense, said in a statement sent to Defense News.
“We are honored to be selected by the MDA as prime contractor to develop the NGI system to protect our nation from advanced missile attacks,” Lehr said, adding, “there is a critical timeline for fielding this capability and our team brings together the industry’s top missile defense talent, agile design and manufacturing practices, and state-of-the-art operational factories to support the MDA and our nation’s defense against these evolving threats.”
“We are bringing together next-generation technologies—digital engineering and game-changing discrimination—for an extremely advanced interceptor,” Rosselli said. “This team is building on unmatched experience, accounting for all 47 prior U.S. exo-atmospheric intercepts. With that knowledge, we are also embracing innovative ways to accelerate operational deployment while reducing risk.”
Raytheon was the developer for RKV as a subcontractor to Boeing.
“We are excited and proud the MDA entrusted Lockheed Martin to lead the development of this game-changing system that will greatly improve our nation’s security for decades to come,” Sarah Reeves, vice president of the NGI program at Lockheed Martin, said in a statement to Defense News.
Lockheed’s program will be headquartered in Huntsville with Reeves leading the team.
Boeing told Defense News in a statement that was “disappointed the U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA) did not advance our team to the next phase of competition in the development of the Next Generation Interceptor (NGI) competition. Our proposal to upgrade the current Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system leveraged the company’s 60-plus years of experience with missile and weapon systems to deliver an NGI solution that emphasized an innovative design with enhanced flexibility and modularity.”
The company added, “While it is premature to comment on next steps until we participate in the formal debrief session, it is important to note that today’s announcement does not impact our commitment to the MDA and to the mission of the GMD system. Our dedicated employees and partners will continue to manage the current system, and continually explore ways to support the warfighter in an evolving threat environment.”
While MDA anticipates testing of the NGI in the mid 2020s, and placing them in the ground roughly in 2027 or 2028, industry proposals will dictate final schedules and what is doable.
Jen Judson is an award-winning journalist covering land warfare for Defense News. She has also worked for Politico and Inside Defense. She holds a Master of Science in journalism from Boston University and a Bachelor of Arts from Kenyon College.