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For Pentagon mega contract, Boeing proposes partnership with Northrop Grumman, jobs in Huntsville

By MARY SELL, Alabama Daily News

After withdrawing in July from competition for a massive U.S. Department of Defense contract to supply the nation’s next generation of ground missiles, Boeing is now pitching the idea that it and competitor Northrop Grumman should work together on it. 

If Northrop Grumman or the Pentagon agree to Boeing’s idea, it would mean “north of 1,000 jobs” for Boeing’s Huntsville operation, Frank McCall told Alabama Daily News. McCall is vice president and program manager of Boeing’s Ground Based Strategic Deterrent.

The Ground Based Strategic Deterrent, or GBSD, is a new program that will replace the decades-old Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles in the late 2020s. The GBSD is an all new weapon system, including the missile, launch control facilities and communications networks.

While the Pentagon could move forward with a joint venture between the two companies, right now Northrop Grumman is the only company in the running for the contract that various media and industry reports say is worth tens of billions of dollars.

“Northrop Grumman is committed to supporting the U.S. Air Force and the GBSD program,” said Tim Paynter, Northrop Grumman vice president of strategic communications, in response to questions from Alabama Daily News. He referred further comment to the Air Force.

The Air Force is not commenting during the selection process, its public affairs office said.

The GBSD is a tremendously large project, McCall said. It involves the development of more than 600 missiles and infrastructure across five states. 

“In our view, the Air Force is best served by putting both us and Northrop Grumman on that project,” he said. 

In 2017, Boeing Space and Missile Systems in Huntsville, Ala. was awarded a $349 million contract for three years of work on plans for Minuteman III replacement missiles. That work is ongoing. Northrop Grumman received a similar contract.

Boeing currently employs about 2,900 workers in Huntsville at its facility on Redstone Arsenal. Northrop Grumman also employs about 1,450 employees at its research and development campus in Huntsville, but it’s GBSD work would be based in Utah.

Northrop Grumman in August broke ground on a Utah facility to serve as a future headquarters for its workforce and nationwide team supporting the GBSD program. In a press release, the company said its an opportunity to add 2,500 jobs in that state.

Boeing says it outlined to the Air Force the significant time and cost savings a team approach could afford on the mega project, shortening the schedule by about two years and reducing initial development costs by about 10%.

Boeing in July pulled itself from competition with Northrop Grumman for the GBSD contract, citing an unfair playing field. At issue was Northrop Grumman’s acquisition in 2018 of Orbital ATK, a dominant producer of rocket motors, The Washington Post reported in July.

In a July 23 letter to top procurement officials, obtained by the Post, Boeing defense CEO Leanne Caret said the Air Force’s request for proposals “takes no steps to mitigate Northrop’s anticompetitive and inherently unfair cost, resource and integration advantages” related to solid rocket motors.

McCall said there’s no better place to help develop GBSD than Rocket City.

“It’s an opportunity lost if GBSD moves on without Boeing and Huntsville,” McCall said.

U.S. Sen Doug Jones, who sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee, is voicing his support for a joint project between the two companies.

“All options should be on the table when it comes to the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent,” Sen. Doug Jones, told Alabama Daily News. “Its modernization is critical to our national security and I believe an integrated approach is certainly worth considering. I hope that any agreement that is reached will increase their presence and create additional jobs in Alabama.”

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