Air Force completes preliminary design review of new ICBM reentry vehicle

By Sara Sirota / April 19, 2021 at 3:11 PM

The Air Force has completed a preliminary design review of the new Mk21A reentry vehicle -- a key component of the military’s future intercontinental ballistic missile system.

The Mk21A is intended to carry the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent's new W87-1 warheads and is a modification of the legacy Minuteman III’s Mk21. Lockheed Martin is the only company designing a solution for the reentry vehicle under a $108 million technology-maturation and risk-reduction contract it won in October 2019.

Despite the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic, the program conducted the PDR on time March 23-24, Air Force spokeswoman Leah Bryant told Inside Defense in an email today. She said the service did not find any additional risks based on the results of the review.

Meanwhile, Lockheed is currently developing two prototype Mk21As and is on track to complete them ahead of scheduled flight tests during the second quarter of fiscal year 2022 and the second quarter of FY-23, Bryant added.

She also said the Air Force plans to release a request for proposals for a contract to develop the new reentry vehicles during the third quarter of FY-22. The program hosted an industry day earlier this year to support the upcoming engineering and manufacturing development phase.

According to a request for information the service issued in December, the Air Force plans to award the EMD contract no later than the fourth quarter of FY-23 -- slightly earlier than previously expected. As the only vendor maturing an Mk21A design, Lockheed is all but certain to win the deal.

The RFI also indicated the program anticipates reaching initial operational capability in FY-30. GBSD has an IOC deadline in FY-29, though this milestone requires the program to field 20 new missiles integrated with legacy reentry vehicles and warheads, not the new components.