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​Boeing will develop its preliminary design for the next intercontinental ballistic missile through a $349 million Air Force contract. Northrop Grumman also received a contract announced Monday. Boeing illustration

​The Air Force announced Monday that it has awarded contracts to Boeing and Northrop Grumman to design the next-generation Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent intercontinental ballistic missile system.

Boeing will receive $349 million and Northrop Grumman $329 million for technology maturation and risk reduction of the LGM-30 Minuteman III missile replacement.

“We are moving forward with modernization of the ground-based leg of the nuclear triad,” Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said in a press release. “Our missiles were built in the 1970s. Things just wear out, and it becomes more expensive to maintain them than to replace them. We need to cost-effectively modernize.”

The Air Force said it wants a holistic approach to the GBSD program, including launch and command and control segments. The total cost of the new program remains unclear, with $22 billion between the service’s most recent estimate and that of the Pentagon.

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein said the deterrence value of the system outweighs any consideration of cost.

"As others have stated, the only thing more expensive than deterrence is fighting a war,” Goldfein said in the release. “The Minuteman III is 45 years old. It is time to upgrade.”

The GBSD program will be managed out of the Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center ICBM Systems Directorate at Hill AFB, Utah. The service said it wants to pursue a “modular systems architecture” as it builds GBSD in order to “encourage continued competition across the lifecycle of the program.”

Lockheed Martin also responded to the Air Force GBSD solicitation last year.

“I am proud of the hard work, professionalism, and dedication of the GBSD program office members,” GBSD Program Manager Col. Heath Collins said in the release. “Over the last year, we have executed a thorough and fair source selection while also putting in place the tools, infrastructure,​ and analytic capability to execute the GBSD program.”

Boeing manufactured the current Minuteman III ICBM system, which entered service in 1970 with a ten-year life expectancy. The company also manufactured the two previous versions of the Minuteman missile. Northrop Grumman has performed technical integration on USAF’s ICBM systems for more than 60 years, according to a company release.

The Air Force expects to award a final contract in 2020 for production of the GBSD system, which should be operational by the late 2020s, according to AFNWC spokesperson Leah Bryant, and is expected to last through 2075.