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Arie Church

July 30, 2015—The next generation ICBM will retain commonality with the Minuteman III to control costs wherever possible, Aerojet Rocketdyne Missile Systems Vice President Michael Bright told Air Force Magazine.

To avoid "breaking the bank," the government is looking to "maintain a lot of aspects" of the Minuteman III, said Bright. This includes everything from re-entry vehicles, upper stages, and fuel, to the current operating locations, launch control facilities, silos, and command and control—albeit, updated, he said in a July 29 interview.

Industry is also looking to cut long-term costs with technological improvements to improve the missile's shelf life "making sure you're not putting a lot of money back into maintaining these missiles," Bright said.

Unlike the Minuteman III, which required new propellant every 20 years, the new fuel ideally would last through ​the life of the missile, out to last at least 2070, he noted.

Over the last decade, the Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center has worked with Aerojet and likely competitor ATK to "develop new, modern stages" for the Minuteman III under the Propulsion Applications Program. As a result, "the industrial base right now is ready" to move with Minuteman III replacement, said Bright.

"We've developed new case material, new propellant material, we've fired the motors, and we're now at the point that we're ready to support the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent modernization," he added.

The Air Force completed its analysis of alternatives last year, and a request for proposals is expected in March 2016, followed by a competitive development contract in 2019 or 2020.

"We fully support that competition … it spurs innovation, it brings down cost, and it's just better for the whole aerospace industry," Bright said.

Whether Aerojet or ATK win, production will likely take from "mid-2025 through the end of the decade" to ramp up, just as Minuteman III ages out.