US-planned anti-ICMB NGI missile program ahead of schedule

Next-Generation Interceptor (NGI) developers Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin believe they can deliver working prototypes months before the deadline.
Christopher McFadden
Artistic reprentation of Lockheed Martin's NGI.

Lockheed Martin 

Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin have both independently reported that they are ahead of schedule in their mission to deliver the Missle Defense Agency's (MDA) Next-Generation Interceptor (NGI). Both defense contractors compete for the multi-billion dollar NGI program to provide cutting-edge intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) interception capabilities for the US mainland.

Ahead of schedule

Currently, 44 Ground-Based Interceptors (GBIs) are stored in silos at Fort Greely, Alaska, and Vandenberg Space Force Base, California. However, defense officials have said that the current interceptors are not equipped to counter missiles containing multiple kill vehicles or decoys, which would complicate the defeat process. Hence the need for the NGI program. Vice Admiral Jon Hill, who served as Director of the Missile Defense Agency until last month, stated that the aim is to load NGI into underground silos starting around 2028.

As it stands, Northrop Grumman has partnered with Raytheon, now RTX, and Lockheed Martin has partnered with Aerojet Rocketdyne to field the new interceptor by 2028. The MDA plans to purchase 20 NGIs which will be used to enhance the MDA's Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) program, which is designed to protect the United States from potential North Korean or Iranian ballistic missile threats.

Both companies have reported using a mixture of traditional and digital methods to accelerate the design process for their NGI designs. This, both reports, will enable them to start fleshing out physical prototypes faster and enable testing well before the deadline. The NGI is one of the MDA's significant investments in fiscal year 2024, with $2.1 billion allocated to its GMD program. The agency's budget overview states that the program includes a payload of multiple kill vehicles.

“We have recently gone through all of our preliminary design reviews over the last recent weeks, and we’ve completed all of those on our accelerated schedule. What this means is we’ve validated all the design elements of our Next-Generation Interceptors through these reviews with the Missile Defense Agency,” Sarah Reeves, vice president and program manager of Lockheed’s NGI program, told Breaking Defense. "We have been consistently on track to an accelerated schedule of [fiscal] 2027 [for delivery of its prototype]," she added.

"Lockheed Martin's NGI program is on track for its next major review, the All Up Round PDR. During this next major review, MDA will assess if the program is ready to move forward in the acquisition process through Knowledge Point number one and ultimately on to the Critical Design Review. The first Lockheed Martin NGI is forecast for delivery to the warfighter as early as FY2027," explained Lockheed Martin in a statement.

Making good progress

Lisa Brown, vice president for NGI at Northrop, announced on Monday that the company's team met every major program milestone on time and accelerated their schedule. The Northrop team completed the systems requirements review three months ahead of schedule and is pulling the preliminary design review forward by at least two months. Brown added that this progress will enable the critical design review to be completed by the end of 2024 instead of early 2025.

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