WASHINGTON — Two Next-Generation Interceptor designs under development as part of a competition to replace ground-based interceptors in the U.S. homeland intercontinental ballistic missile defense system have both passed a key review.
The Pentagon chose Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman to go head-to-head in a competition to provide a Next-Generation Interceptor, or NGI, to replace current interceptors in the ground at Fort Greeley, Alaska, and at Vandenberg Space Force Base, California, that make up the Ground-based Midcourse Defense System, or GMD. GMD is designed to defend the continental U.S. against possible attacks from North Korea and Iran.
Northrop Grumman and its teammate Raytheon Technologies announced the completion of its system requirements review in a Dec. 20 statement. Lockheed Martin completed its SRR in October. The Missile Defense Agency approved the SRRs ahead of schedule.
Wrapping up the review means the designs can now proceed into an initial system design phase and allows the continuation of risk reduction testing and “critical component qualification activities,” said a Northrop and Raytheon joint statement.
“This achievement comes after Northrop and Raytheon demonstrated its NGI Common Software Factory, which enables rapid development, integration and delivery in a DevSecOps environment,” the statement added.
The team is also using “high-fidelity model-based systems engineering, and hardware manufacturing in customer-certified facilities,” and is investing its own internal dollars to reduce risk on hardware development and testing “to ensure deployment of NGI in the rapid timeline the nation requires,” according to the statement.
“I am proud the Lockheed Martin team was able to complete the NGI Systems Requirement Review six months after the initial development and demonstration contract award, when normally it takes from six months to a year to get to this point,” Sarah Reeves, vice president of the NGI program at Lockheed Martin, said in statement.
“On NGI we were born digital, and digital technology is built into the foundation of our program. Since our SRR, where we demonstrated our own Software Factory to the customer, we remain focused on reducing technology risk and proving out our design using the latest in digital technology to learn, adapt, and refine this critical capability in real-time,” she added.
The contract the teams received in March 2021 to design NGIs 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.
The Pentagon announced in August 2019 its intention to build a new NGI after the Redesigned Kill Vehicle program—– which 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.
Raytheon was the developer for the canceled RKV program as a subcontractor to Boeing.
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.
Northrop and Raytheon announced their intention to compete as a team in May 2020, and Lockheed announced it would join forces with Aerojet Rocketdyne to compete in October 2020. Lockheed announced its plans to buy Aerojet Rocketdyne in December 2020.
While MDA anticipates testing of the NGI in the mid-2020s and placing them in the ground roughly in 2027 or 2028, the agency’s director thinks this could happen sooner.
Vice Adm. Jon Hill said earlier this year that through competition and industry investment, “we know the date is going to come to the left.”
Earlier this year, an independent cost estimate from the Defense Department’s Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation office determined the total cost to develop the NGI could come to roughly $13 billion, while procurement as well as operation and sustainment could come to a little more than $2 billion.
Replacing the GBIs in the GMD system is a top U.S. missile defense priority. Congress, in its recently passed FY22 National Defense Authorization Act, sought increased oversight of the program and is requiring more transparency when it comes to MDA flight and ground testing.
Part of that provision requires, as part of MDA’s FY23 budget request, a report on the funding profile needed for the NGI program that covers costs through the time NGI is deemed fully operationally capable.
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 degree in journalism from Boston University and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Kenyon College.