How Boeing Could Repurpose Years of Work on GBSD

Boeing may be bowing out of the competition to build the next intercontinental ballistic missile, but the work it has accomplished so far could get new life under other programs.

The defense giant revealed its concerns with the Air Force’s Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent program over the summer and indicated it would not continue its bid against Northrop Grumman unless the service agreed to certain changes. But significant design work was already underway, and as the team disbands, the parts they’ve prototyped and processes they’ve refined for one of the Air Force’s most complex systems can now help others.

“Several technologies were developed that will be applied to other government and commercial products,” Boeing spokeswoman Queena Jones said in an email. “Leveraging the technical maturity of other products is a common approach that significantly reduces cost, schedule, and technical risk of development programs.”

Jones declined to provide examples of specific programs, like other missiles, nuclear systems, or aircraft, that the technology could bolster.

“Technologies matured for GBSD have broad applications in cyber security, systems engineering integration and tests, modeling and simulation, specialty engineering (reliability, human factors, system safety and maintainability), ground and launch systems, training systems, nuclear hardness and nuclear surety, and command and control,” she said.

She noted that model-based systems engineering (MBSE), an approach the Air Force touts as one of the best in acquisition, will spread to other efforts. That uses modeling and simulation to explore various possible designs for less money, and is particularly helpful for projects where the nature and scale prevents a contractor from testing multiple options in real life.

“Boeing also will continue to benefit from these investments as the use of MBSE further matures to improve total life cycle management of complex systems developed for other commercial and government purposes,” Jones said. “Boeing’s implementation of MBSE has contributed to improved first-time quality and early safety design implementation.”

Those who worked on Boeing’s GBSD team can apply their engineering and weapon systems expertise across space, defense, and aerospace programs. Jones said that while GBSD teammates were reassigned to other programs within 72 hours of receiving notice that the Air Force would stop funding the company’s technology-maturation and risk-reduction work, no one lost their job and no facilities closed as a result.

“Boeing would have brought 4,500 direct and indirect jobs to Alabama as the prime contractor on GBSD,” she added.

Leaving the competition does not affect the company’s ability to support its Minuteman III, the Air Force’s current ICBM, Jones said.

Boeing does not expect that losing funding for GBSD will spur ripple effects across other programs, or deter it from bidding on other aspects of the nuclear triad, like the upcoming overhaul of nuclear command, control, and communications assets.

“We will continue to advance technologies critical to GBSD, realizing these technological advancements and innovations benefit not only GBSD, but many other programs and customers served by Boeing,” Jones said. “We have invested hundreds of millions in GBSD to date, and we will continue to invest in technologies that have application for and beyond GBSD.”