WASHINGTON — The Pentagon’s Next-Generation Interceptor — a weapon the department is competitively developing to replace the current ground-based interceptors within the United States — will cost nearly $18 billion across the life of the program.
An independent cost estimate from the Defense Department’s Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation (CAPE) office — first reported by Bloomberg and since obtained by Defense News — has determined the total cost to develop the NGI will come to roughly $13 billion while procurement as well as operation and sustainment will come to a little over $2 billion each.
The Pentagon announced in August 2019 its intention to build a new interceptor after the Redesigned Kill Vehicle (RKV) program — one that would upgrade the Ground-Based Interceptors (GBI) with the ability to go after more complex threats more reliably — was abruptly killed. The interceptors make up the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense System that has been in place in the continental United States to defend against possible threats from North Korea and Iran.
The RKV would have specifically upgraded the GBI’s Exoatmospheric Kill Vehicle (EKV) — or warhead — designed to destroy targets in high-speed collisions after separating from the booster rocket. The EKV required technical changes due to issues in tests, and so the Missile Defense Agency decided to initiate the RKV program. In the meantime, the agency has had several successful tests of the GMD system with the EKV following engineering changes.
RKV struggled with insurmountable technical issues resulting in delayed schedules and cost increases. Since then, the Defense Department has embarked on a new effort to entirely replace the GBIs in place at Fort Greeley, Alaska, and Vandenberg Air Base, California, with the new NGIs.
The Pentagon has already selected Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman to go head-to-head in a competition to develop and build the interceptors. The companies beat out a Boeing team that included General Atomics Electromagnetic Systems and Aerojet Rocketdyne.
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.
The CAPE estimate takes into account the acquisition plan to keep two NGI contractor teams through the Critical Design Review (CDR) phase, the CAPE summary states. The Missile Defense Agency will choose a single vendor to proceed into final tests and production.
CAPE is anticipating the Pentagon will buy and support 21 interceptors in addition to 10 development test units.
The per unit program acquisition cost is estimated to be roughly $498 million each for the 31 interceptors.
While the Missile Defense Agency anticipates testing of the new interceptor 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, the Pentagon has said.
Aaron Mehta, Defense News Pentagon correspondent, contributed to this report.
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.