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Boeing, Northrop spar over $85 billion nuclear missile program via The Washington Post

With Northrop poised to become the Defense Department’s primary provider of ballistic missiles, Boeing has launched an aggressive lobbying campaign

By Aaron Gregg

There was an $85 billion elephant in the room at this year’s Air Force Association conference, an annual trade show where thousands of uniformed airmen rub shoulders with suit-clad defense contractors hawking the latest advanced weaponry.

[…]

Northrop is poised to take over a massive Air Force nuclear weapons program called Ground Based Strategic Deterrent, or GBSD, which will call on a team of contractors to replace the U.S. military’s aging stock of Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles. But Boeing’s Arlington-based defense business, which has handled the Minuteman program since 1958, has launched an aggressive lobbying campaign in defense of its interests.

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With Boeing out, the Northrop-led team appears to be the Pentagon’s only option, something that could make it hard for the government to negotiate a fair price.

It is a common dilemma facing Defense Department weapons buyers, who have the impossible task of running a competitive marketplace when there are, at best, two or three potential suppliers for the most expensive weapons systems. The U.S. defense industry has consolidated to a worrying degree in the decades since the Cold War, officials and analysts say, with a handful of dominant suppliers exerting tremendous influence.

A White House report released last year found 300 cases in which important defense products are produced by just a single company, a “fragile” supplier, or a foreign supplier.

[…]

Boeing’s stewardship of the Minuteman program brought it roughly 600 defense contracts totaling $8 billion in the first 30 years of the programs, according to estimates provided by the company. Northrop has traditionally taken a secondary role handling complex systems integration.

In 2017, Northrop and Boeing were awarded contracts worth $349.2 million and $328.6 million, respectively, to develop their own version of a next-generation replacement for the Minuteman. In July, the Air Force asked each company to submit a proposal, hoping to compare the two missile designs and negotiate a fair price.

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