The U.S. Air Force has picked Lockheed Martin [LMT] and Rockwell Collins [COL] to begin designing a replacement for the aging Airborne Launch Control System (ALCS), which allows command-and-control aircraft to launch land-based, nuclear-armed intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).

Lockheed Martin Space Systems and Rockwell Collins have been awarded three-year contracts valued at $80.8 million and $76.3 million, respectively, for the ALCS Replacement (ALCS-R) program’s technology maturation and risk reduction (TMRR) phase, the Air Force announced late Oct. 3.

The Air Force test launches a Minuteman III ICBM in September 2010. Photo: Air Force.
The Air Force test launches a Minuteman III ICBM in September 2010. Photo: Air Force.

Each company is expected to complete a preliminary design and develop a fully functional prototype. The Air Force plans to pick one firm to finish designing ALCS-R and build the new system.

The Air Force received a total of five bids for the TMRR contracts. It did not disclose who submitted the losing bids.

The existing ALCS includes 1960s-era radios at the Air Force’s 450 Minuteman III ICBM launch sites and aging equipment on the Navy’s E-6B Mercury command-and-control aircraft. It would allow U.S. Strategic Command to launch the ICBMs if something prevented them from being commanded from the ground.

ALCS-R will be able to control both Minuteman III and the aging ICBM’s future replacement, the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD). The Air Force plans to field ALCS-R by 2024 and keep it in service until 2075.

“We are developing a modular system that can be easily upgraded to address new technologies and threats as they emerge,” said Maj. Gen. Scott Jansson, commander of the Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center at Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico and program executive officer for strategic systems.

While both Lockheed Martin and Rockwell Collins had no immediate comment on the contract awards, Lockheed Martin said after losing the GBSD design competition less than two months ago that it would “be looking for opportunities to support the Air Force and the GBSD program throughout its lifecycle” (Defense Daily, Aug. 30).

For GBSD, the Air Force awarded three-year TMRR contracts to Boeing [BA] and Northrop Grumman [NOC] on Aug. 21 (Defense Daily, Aug. 21). The GBSD program plans to conduct a system requirements review this month (Defense Daily, Sept. 28).