ICBM: Over 65 Years of Technical Leadership

Through the work of our heritage companies, Northrop Grumman has sustained and modernized the nation's ICBM systems for more than 65 years, and this critical work continues today. Explore the milestones that compose our rich history of leadership and innovation in ICBM technology.

Timeline

Thiokol company logo

1948

Thiokol Corporation

Thiokol (a heritage Northrop Grumman company) static tested its first solid rocket motor at Elkton, Maryland. The company also produced the TX-18 Falcon missile, the world’s first solid-fuel missile.

Atlas ICBM

1954

Atlas integration begins

The Atlas program was given top priority to develop an ICBM capable of delivering nuclear ordnance over intercontinental distances. Ramo-Wooldridge Corporation (later TRW, a heritage Northrop Grumman company) was selected the following year to manage research, development and integration of the Atlas program.

Ramo Wooldridge company logo

1954

Ramo-Wooldridge Corporation chosen as technical lead to integrate the entire ICBM system

In 1954, the Ramo-Wooldridge Corporation (later known as TRW, a heritage Northrop Grumman company) was awarded a contract to provide general systems engineering and technical direction (GSE/TD) to the Western Development Division, an Air Force group with sole responsibility to oversee the research and development, testing and production leading to the creation of a successful ICBM.

black and white photo with two men

1955

Thor and Titan integration programs begin

ICBM development is given the highest national priority, which leads to the Titan ICBM and Thor IRBM programs with Ramo-Wooldridge Corporation's Guided Missile Research Division (GMRD) providing system engineering.

Rocket on launch pad with man in front

1955

Minuteman I integration begins

President Eisenhower authorizes the Minuteman missile program. Previously, the Ramo-Wooldridge Corporation was selected as technical director and systems engineer for development of the solid-fueled missiles that resulted in the Minuteman program.

people watching rocket motor test in desert

1956-1957

Thiokol static test fires solid-fuel rockets

Thiokol purchased extensive land near Promontory, Utah to manufacture and static test solid-fuel rocket motors. Company conducted the first static test fire of a Minuteman 1 stage in 1957.

Hercules company logo

1958

Hercules

Hercules (a heritage Northrop Grumman company) began producing large solid-fuel rocket motors, becoming a primary producer for the Defense Department and NASA. Hercules produced the third-stage motor for the three-stage solid-fuel Minuteman I and continued that work for Minuteman II.

TRW logo

1958

Ramo-Wooldridge became TRW, a heritage Northrop Grumman Company.

Northrop Grumman Strategic Propulsion Systems - Minuteman

1966

Minuteman III integration begins

The LGM-30 Minuteman III entered development in 1966 as an improvement program for the earlier Minuteman missile systems.

1967

Reentry System Modification

TRW technical advisors discovered an error in transcribing the gravity measurement survey notes for Vandenberg's Minuteman II launch complex. This was determined to be the major contribution to a tendency of the reentry vehicles to fall consistently short of the desired point of impact. Through this discovery, the Minuteman II missiles were fixed.

1973

Command Date Buffer modification (initial remote technology)

The most sweeping modification to the Minuteman command and control system since its inception occurred with the Improved Launch Control System (ILCS) upgrade. ILCS was needed to take advantage of the Minuteman III's remote data change capabilities that were incorporated into the Command Data Buffer configuration. Significant changes were necessary to prevent unauthorized data change, including protocol for continually cross-checking information and full encryption to ensure nuclear surety.

rocket taking off from launch pad

1978

Peacekeeper integration begins

Intended as a replacement for the Minuteman, the Peacekeeper employed an advanced guidance system, a multiple independently targetable reentry vehicle system and a cold launch system to allow for silo reuse.

1979

Advanced Maneuvering Reentry Vehicle system

The Advanced Maneuverable Reentry Vehicle, capable of autonomous tracking of ground targets, represented a significant leap in reentry vehicle sophistication. The first prototype flew on a Minuteman I test vehicle in 1979.

1981

Advanced Strategic Missile System

The Advanced Strategic Missile System was initiated to develop countermeasures to possible antiballistic missile systems.

Orbital Sciences company logo

1982

Orbital Sciences

Orbital Sciences (a heritage Northrop Grumman company) was created, specializing in the design, manufacture and launch of small- and medium-class space and rocket systems for commercial, military and other government customers. Orbital acquired ATK in 2015.

1983

Small ICBM integration begins

Part of President Reagan's ICBM modernization program, the development of a new small ICBM was recommended for basing flexibility and greater survivability. In 1983, the small ICBM program office was established as part of the Air Force's Ballistic Missile Office, with TRW providing systems engineering and technical assistance.

1986

Rail Garrison integration begins

President Reagan approved development of the Peacekeeper Rail Garrison, a mobile missile system, as part of a plan to place 50 Peacekeeper ICBMs on the nation's rail network for deployment to avoid being destroyed by a first-strike counterforce attack.

1989

Rapid Execution & Combat Targeting (REACT) mod begins

The Rapid Execution and Combat Targeting System is a modification of the launch control centers that provide continual monitoring and rapid retargeting of Minuteman ICBMs. It integrates communication systems and weapon systems into a single console and allows configuration and targeting data without need for manual data input.

rocket launching in front of blue sky

1990s

Development of Minotaur family of rockets

After the Cold War, Orbital developed the Minotaur family of expendable launch vehicles (or rockets) that use deactivated Peacekeeper assets

ATK company logo

1990

ATK

ATK (a heritage Northrop Grumman company) was launched as an independent company and became known for producing propulsion systems for space exploration, commercial launch vehicles and strategic and missile defense uses. ATK acquired Hercules in 1995 and Thiokol in 2001.

1992

Minuteman III Guidance Replacement & Single Reentry Integration

The Minuteman III Guidance Replacement Program, approved in 1992, was part of a Department of Defense initiative to extend the life of the weapon system through the year 2020. The Single Reentry Vehicle was initiated to allow strategic planners greater flexibility in meeting warhead reductions mandated by arms limitation treaties.

people in front of building by flagpole

1997

ICBM Prime Integration Contract

The ICBM program structure transitioned from a group of associate contractors reporting to an Air Force System Program Office to a team of subcontractors reporting to a single prime integration contractor — known as the ICBM Prime Integration Contract (IPIC). TRW, a heritage Northrop Grumman company, competed and won the multibillion-dollar contract as prime integration contractor supporting ICBM sustainment and modernization from January 1998 to June 2016, tasked with ensuring around-the-clock mission readiness for the entire weapon system.

1999

Minuteman Minimum Essential Emergency Communications Network

Under the ICBM Prime Integration Contract, TRW was responsible for the Minimum Essential Emergency Communications Network that provides secure, high-fidelity, jam-resistant and survivable communications links between the National Command Authorities and the Strategic Nuclear Forces. Another program started the same year was the Propulsion Replacement Program to extend the life of the Minuteman III operational force by replacing the solid propellant propulsion subsystems.

people in front of rocket motor in manufacturing facility

1999

ATK extends service life of the Minuteman III missile motors

Under the ICBM Prime Integration Contract, Propulsion Replacement Program (PRP), ATK remanufactured approximately 1800 Minuteman motors and delivered an astonishing 26 motors per month to the Air Force. ATK developed and qualified the stage one remanufacture process and later assumed responsibility for remanufacturing all three stages

2001

Propulsion System Rocket Engine

TRW was awarded the contract to refurbish the Minuteman III stage four rocket engine, known as the Propulsion System Rocket Engine, to extend its service life through the year 2020.

2002

Safety Enhanced RV & REACT Services Life Extension Program

TRW was awarded the contract for the Safety Enhanced Reentry Vehicle program to deploy an improved reentry vehicle on the Minuteman III, transferring Peacekeeper reentry vehicles onto the Minuteman III to enhance safety and maintain reliability. TRW was also awarded the contract for system design and development of the ICBM Rapid Execution and Combat Targeting Service Life Extension Program to upgrade the launch command centers that control the Minuteman III.

2002

Northrop Grumman acquires TRW

2003

Environmental Control System

Northrop Grumman was awarded a contract for the environmental control system program to replace the existing air conditioning, heating and ventilation system of the launch facilities and missile alert facilities with a system that will be reliable and supportable through 2020.

2004

ICBM Crypto upgrade

Northrop Grumman was awarded a contract for the ICBM Cryptographic Upgrade that initially involved replacing the cryptovariable used to authenticate and encrypt data moving through the Hardened Intersite Cable System between launch control centers and launch facilities.

2006

ATK earns prestigious award for PRP

ATK Propulsion Replacement team earned the distinguished Brent Scowcroft Award for outstanding performance.

2010

Solid Rocket Motor Warm Line

Congress approved the slow-rate production Solid Rocket Motor Warm Line program to preserve critical defense asset manufacturing.

2012

Payload Transporter integration

Northrop Grumman was awarded a contract to design, develop, test and qualify a replacement payload transporter system for the nation's ICBM weapon system. The payload transporter system removes and replaces Minuteman guidance and control systems, propulsion system rocket engines and reentry systems in a controlled environment between the launch facility and the Missile Support Base.

Orbital ATK company logo

2015

Orbital acquired ATK and became Orbital ATK

2015

Awarded Ground Subsystems Support Contract (GSSC)

Northrop Grumman was awarded a contract for the operational and sustainment activities of Minuteman III ICBM Ground Subsystems to include weapon system analyses, system and subsystems assessment, and technical advisement and assistance to ensure security, surety and reliability.

2015

Propulsion Subsystem Support Contract (PSSC)

Northrop Grumman provides sustaining engineering, software maintenance, developmental engineering, production engineering and procurement for the Minuteman III system. This includes support for solid and liquid propulsion, flight controls, system ordnance, and flight batteries.

Men in headseht in controll room

2017

GBSD TMRR award

Northrop Grumman is one of two companies selected by the U.S. Air Force for the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent, Technology Maturation and Risk Reduction contract.

2018

Northrop Grumman Acquires Orbital ATK

Rocket Motor Igniting

2019

Northrop Grumman awarded Rocket Systems Launch Program contract (RSLP)

Northrop Grumman is conducting aging surveillance and motor disposal efforts on Minuteman and Peacekeeper motors.

Present

Executing GSSC

Today, Northrop Grumman is the industry lead on ICBM's Ground Subsystems Support Contract, performing sustainment, development, production and deployment of hardware and system modifications for Ground and Airborne Launch Control Systems, launch facilities and associated infrastructure. These hardware and software modifications extend the life of the 450 Minuteman launch facilities and 45 launch control facilities for command and control of 400 deployed ICBMs across five states, protecting our nation, assuring our allies and deterring our enemies.

The Nation’s Next-Generation Intercontinental Ballistic Missile System

Ground Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD) TMRR

The Northrop Grumman nationwide team has been working together for more than three years on this competitive Air Force acquisition. If selected, this team is ready to deliver a national security priority to develop a modernized ICBM capability, on schedule, for the U.S. Air Force, day-one.