NGI’s mission is to protect the US against missile threats from rogue nations with a modern weapon system as an evolution of the currently deployed Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system. Credit: Lockheed Martin.

For the second time in recent years, Northrop has bested Boeing in its specialty area.

The Defense Department on Tuesday finalized deals worth up to US$7.5 billion with two teams of defense contractors — Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman-Raytheon — for the Next Generation Interceptor (NGI) program, The Washington Post reported.

The first major defense procurement finalized under President Biden, the NGI is a new interceptor that can shoot incoming missiles out of the sky, part of a broader set of investments to ensure the United States can deal with a nuclear first strike from a hostile nation such as Russia or China.

Late last year, Northrop bested Boeing after being awarded a US$13 billion opportunity to build the Air Force’s next ballistic missile.

The contract will initially assign a combined US$1.6 billion of research and development funding to the two competing teams through 2022, the Post reported.

The deal includes options to expand those development efforts to US$3.6 billion for Lockheed and US$3.9 billion for the Northrop-Raytheon collaboration.

Then, pending years of weapons testing, the Missile Defense Agency could issue a larger contract to produce the interceptor in large numbers, the Post reported.

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“We are bringing together next-generation technologies — digital engineering and game-changing discrimination — for an extremely advanced interceptor,” said Bryan Rosselli, vice president of Strategic Missile Defense at Raytheon Missiles & Defense. 

“This team is building on unmatched experience, accounting for all 47 prior US exo-atmospheric intercepts. With that knowledge, we are also embracing innovative ways to accelerate operational deployment while reducing risk.”

Missile Defense Agency Director Vice Adm. Jon Hill said this approach will allow the Pentagon to get the best technology for the best possible price — a statement no doubt aimed at lawmakers in Congress who are squabbling over defense spending.

“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,” Hill said.

According to Breaking Defense, the NGI program sprung to life in the wake of the cancellation of Boeing’s sputtering US$6.6 billion effort to replace the existing Exo-Atmospheric Kill Vehicle, a ground-based interceptor designed to defend the US mainland against long-range ballistic missile attacks.

Tuesday’s decision passes over a separate proposal from Boeing, which has led the Pentagon’s missile defense efforts for six decades, primarily from a manufacturing facility in Huntsville, Ala.

Next Generation Interceptor graphic, courtesy Lockheed Martin.

  “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,” said Scott Lehr, vice president and general manager, launch and missile defense, Northrop Grumman.

“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.”

Although NGI is not meant to replace the existing missile defense system, sources say it represents a “layered approach” — designed to counter new missile threats from rogue states such as North Korea and Iran, the Post reported.

The new interceptor “will address threats that the current system cannot,” said Lehr.

Both Rosselli and Lehr declined to offer specifics, staying firmly behind the veil of secrecy, noting that program details are classified — SOP for programs of this nature.

According to Forbes magazine, the plan is to develop a new hit-to-kill system sitting on a new solid-rocket stack that can destroy hostile warheads with the sheer energy of impact.

Ideally, each interceptor would be equipped with multiple kill vehicles that can counter a number of attackers.

The current homeland missile defense system concentrates its interceptors in underground silos at Fort Greely in Alaska (four more are deployed at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California), Forbes reported.

Like interceptors in the existing homeland defense network, NGI will rely on target detection and tracking from a diverse assortment of sensors on land, at sea, in the air and in orbit.

Sources: Washington Post, Breaking Defense, Forbes Magazine