The Air Force completed the preliminary design review (PDR) for the Northrop Grumman [NOC]- developed Ground Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD) in late April, the service said May 15.

The PDR took place April 28-30 and is the latest major programmatic milestone for the service to undertake virtually, while many program personnel are working limited hours or from home while adhering to state and local COVID-19 pandemic guidance. The Air Force hosted the GBSD PDR meetings in a secure virtual environment at 19 locations across the United States, with over 25 government organizations involved, per a Friday statement.

“The PDR ensured Northrop Grumman’s design is sufficiently mature and ready to proceed into detailed design with acceptable risk, and will meet performance requirements within budget and on schedule,” said Col. Jason Bartolomei, GBSD system program manager, in the release.

“Accomplishing this PDR is a huge success for the program, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic,” he added. “The GBSD team overcame many challenges to accomplish such a large, complex PDR for an Acquisition Category 1-D program. Our classified network and digital engineering capabilities were key to this milestone, but secondary to the hard-work and commitment of the entire organization.”

Northrop Grumman is the presumptive contractor to build the U.S. military’s next intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and the sole bidder for the $25 million Engineering and Manufacturing Development contract after Boeing [BA] quit the program in July 2019. Boeing and Northrop Grumman each won technology maturation and risk reduction (TMRR) contracts in 2017.

The Air Force has planned to award the EMD phase contract by the end of fiscal year 2020, although the award could come sooner, Will Roper, the Air Force’s assistant secretary for acquisition, technology and logistics, recently shared in a media teleconference (Defense Daily, April 16).

The Air Force plans to procure more than 600 GBSD missiles, including spares and test units. It will begin fielding them over about nine years beginning in the late 2020s, to replace the 1970s-era Minuteman III systems currently serving as one leg of the nuclear triad. Boeing was the prime contractor for Minuteman III, and has reserved the right to protest the competition or award.

The service requested $1.5 billion for GBSD engineering and development in the fiscal year 2021 presidential budget request, released in February. It intends to request an additional $12 billion for the program between 2022 and 2025, per service budget justification documents.

The Air Force has learned on new technologies to move forward with critical program milestones virtually while much of its acquisition workforce is no longer working regularly out of their offices. Roper told reporters in April that the service had completed much of the critical design review for the VC-25B program to build the next Air Force One planes in a virtual setting, although some classified elements of the review still must be conducted in person (Defense Daily, April 16.)