ICBM: Over 65 Years of Technical Leadership

ICBM: Over 65 Years of Technical Leadership

Through the work of our heritage companies, Northrop Grumman has sustained and modernized the nation’s ICBM systems for more than 65 years.

This critical work continues today.

Explore the milestones that compose our rich history of leadership and innovation in ICBM technology.

ICBM Timeline

Thiokol company logo


Thiokol Corporation

Thiokol (a heritage Northrop Grumman company) static tested its first solid rocket motor at Elkton, Maryland. The company also produced the TX-18 Falcon missile, the world’s first solid-fuel missile.

Atlas ICBM


Atlas integration begins

The Atlas program was given top priority to develop an ICBM capable of delivering nuclear ordnance over intercontinental distances. Ramo-Wooldridge Corporation (later TRW, a heritage Northrop Grumman company) was selected the following year to manage research, development and integration of the Atlas program.

Ramo Wooldridge company logo


Ramo-Wooldridge Corporation chosen as technical lead to integrate the entire ICBM system

In 1954, the Ramo-Wooldridge Corporation (later known as TRW, a heritage Northrop Grumman company) was awarded a contract to provide general systems engineering and technical direction (GSE/TD) to the Western Development Division, an Air Force group with sole responsibility to oversee the research and development, testing and production leading to the creation of a successful ICBM.

black and white photo with two men holding picture frame


Thor and Titan integration programs begin

ICBM development is given the highest national priority, which leads to the Titan ICBM and Thor IRBM programs with Ramo-Wooldridge Corporation’s Guided Missile Research Division (GMRD) providing system engineering.

Rocket on launch pad with man in front


Minuteman I integration begins

President Eisenhower authorizes the Minuteman missile program. Previously, the Ramo-Wooldridge Corporation was selected as technical director and systems engineer for development of the solid-fueled missiles that resulted in the Minuteman program.

people watching rocket motor test in desert


Thiokol static test fires solid-fuel rockets

Thiokol purchased extensive land near Promontory, Utah to manufacture and static test solid-fuel rocket motors. Company conducted the first static test fire of a Minuteman 1 stage in 1957.

Hercules company logo



Hercules (a heritage Northrop Grumman company) began producing large solid-fuel rocket motors, becoming a primary producer for the Defense Department and NASA. Hercules produced the third-stage motor for the three-stage solid-fuel Minuteman I and continued that work for Minuteman II.

TRW original logo


Ramo-Wooldridge became TRW, a heritage Northrop Grumman Company

Northrop Grumman Strategic Propulsion Systems - Minuteman


Minuteman III integration begins

The LGM-30 Minuteman III entered development in 1966 as an improvement program for the earlier Minuteman missile systems.


Reentry System Modification

TRW technical advisors discovered an error in transcribing the gravity measurement survey notes for Vandenberg’s Minuteman II launch complex. This was determined to be the major contribution to a tendency of the reentry vehicles to fall consistently short of the desired point of impact. Through this discovery, the Minuteman II missiles were fixed.


Command Date Buffer modification (initial remote technology)

The most sweeping modification to the Minuteman command and control system since its inception occurred with the Improved Launch Control System (ILCS) upgrade. ILCS was needed to take advantage of the Minuteman III’s remote data change capabilities that were incorporated into the Command Data Buffer configuration. Significant changes were necessary to prevent unauthorized data change, including protocol for continually cross-checking information and full encryption to ensure nuclear surety.

rocket taking off from launch pad


Peacekeeper integration begins

Intended as a replacement for the Minuteman, the Peacekeeper employed an advanced guidance system, a multiple independently targetable reentry vehicle system and a cold launch system to allow for silo reuse.


Advanced Maneuvering Reentry Vehicle system

The Advanced Maneuverable Reentry Vehicle, capable of autonomous tracking of ground targets, represented a significant leap in reentry vehicle sophistication. The first prototype flew on a Minuteman I test vehicle in 1979.


Advanced Strategic Missile System

The Advanced Strategic Missile System was initiated to develop countermeasures to possible antiballistic missile systems.

Orbital Sciences company logo


Orbital Sciences

Orbital Sciences (a heritage Northrop Grumman company) was created, specializing in the design, manufacture and launch of small- and medium-class space and rocket systems for commercial, military and other government customers. Orbital acquired ATK in 2015.


Small ICBM integration begins

Part of President Reagan’s ICBM modernization program, the development of a new small ICBM was recommended for basing flexibility and greater survivability. In 1983, the small ICBM program office was established as part of the Air Force’s Ballistic Missile Office, with TRW providing systems engineering and technical assistance.


Rail Garrison integration begins

President Reagan approved development of the Peacekeeper Rail Garrison, a mobile missile system, as part of a plan to place 50 Peacekeeper ICBMs on the nation’s rail network for deployment to avoid being destroyed by a first-strike counterforce attack.


Rapid Execution & Combat Targeting (REACT) mod begins

The Rapid Execution and Combat Targeting System is a modification of the launch control centers that provide continual monitoring and rapid re-targeting of Minuteman ICBMs. It integrates communication systems and weapon systems into a single console and allows configuration and targeting data without need for manual data input.

rocket launching in front of blue sky


Development of Minotaur family of rockets

After the Cold War, Orbital developed the Minotaur family of expendable launch vehicles (or rockets) that use deactivated Peacekeeper assets

ATK logo



ATK (a heritage Northrop Grumman company) was launched as an independent company and became known for producing propulsion systems for space exploration, commercial launch vehicles and strategic and missile defense uses. ATK acquired Hercules in 1995 and Thiokol in 2001.


Minuteman III Guidance Replacement & Single Reentry Integration

The Minuteman III Guidance Replacement Program, approved in 1992, was part of a Department of Defense initiative to extend the life of the weapon system through the year 2020. The Single Reentry Vehicle was initiated to allow strategic planners greater flexibility in meeting warhead reductions mandated by arms limitation treaties.

Group shot of ICBM Prime Integration Contract Employees


ICBM Prime Integration Contract

The ICBM program structure transitioned from a group of associate contractors reporting to an Air Force System Program Office to a team of subcontractors reporting to a single prime integration contractor — known as the ICBM Prime Integration Contract (IPIC). TRW, a heritage Northrop Grumman company, competed and won the multibillion-dollar contract as prime integration contractor supporting ICBM sustainment and modernization from January 1998 to June 2016, tasked with ensuring around-the-clock mission readiness for the entire weapon system.


Minuteman Minimum Essential Emergency Communications Network

Under the ICBM Prime Integration Contract, TRW was responsible for the Minimum Essential Emergency Communications Network that provides secure, high-fidelity, jam-resistant and survivable communications links between the National Command Authorities and the Strategic Nuclear Forces. Another program started the same year was the Propulsion Replacement Program to extend the life of the Minuteman III operational force by replacing the solid propellant propulsion subsystems.

people in front of rocket motor in manufacturing facility


ATK extends service life of the Minuteman III missile motors

Under the ICBM Prime Integration Contract, Propulsion Replacement Program (PRP), ATK remanufactured approximately 1800 Minuteman motors and delivered an astonishing 26 motors per month to the Air Force. ATK developed and qualified the stage one remanufacture process and later assumed responsibility for remanufacturing all three stages


Propulsion System Rocket Engine

TRW was awarded the contract to refurbish the Minuteman III stage four rocket engine, known as the Propulsion System Rocket Engine, to extend its service life through the year 2020.


Safety Enhanced RV & REACT Services Life Extension Program

TRW was awarded the contract for the Safety Enhanced Reentry Vehicle program to deploy an improved reentry vehicle on the Minuteman III, transferring Peacekeeper reentry vehicles onto the Minuteman III to enhance safety and maintain reliability. TRW was also awarded the contract for system design and development of the ICBM Rapid Execution and Combat Targeting Service Life Extension Program to upgrade the launch command centers that control the Minuteman III.

TRW logo in red


Northrop Grumman acquires TRW


Environmental Control System

Northrop Grumman was awarded a contract for the environmental control system program to replace the existing air conditioning, heating and ventilation system of the launch facilities and missile alert facilities with a system that will be reliable and supportable through 2020.


ICBM Crypto upgrade

Northrop Grumman was awarded a contract for the ICBM Cryptographic Upgrade that initially involved replacing the cryptovariable used to authenticate and encrypt data moving through the Hardened Intersite Cable System between launch control centers and launch facilities.


ATK earns prestigious award for PRP

ATK Propulsion Replacement team earned the distinguished Brent Scowcroft Award for outstanding performance.


Solid Rocket Motor Warm Line

Congress approved the slow-rate production Solid Rocket Motor Warm Line program to preserve critical defense asset manufacturing.


Payload Transporter integration

Northrop Grumman was awarded a contract to design, develop, test and qualify a replacement payload transporter system for the nation’s ICBM weapon system. The payload transporter system removes and replaces Minuteman guidance and control systems, propulsion system rocket engines and reentry systems in a controlled environment between the launch facility and the Missile Support Base.

Orbital ATK company logo


Orbital acquired ATK and became Orbital ATK


Awarded Ground Subsystems Support Contract (GSSC)

Northrop Grumman was awarded a contract for the operational and sustainment activities of Minuteman III ICBM Ground Subsystems to include weapon system analyses, system and subsystems assessment, and technical advisement and assistance to ensure security, surety and reliability.


Propulsion Subsystem Support Contract (PSSC)

Northrop Grumman provides sustaining engineering, software maintenance, developmental engineering, production engineering and procurement for the Minuteman III system. This includes support for solid and liquid propulsion, flight controls, system ordnance, and flight batteries.

Men in headseht in controll room



Northrop Grumman is one of two companies selected by the U.S. Air Force for the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent, Technology Maturation and Risk Reduction contract.

Northrop Grumman Falls Church HQ surrounded by fall colors


Northrop Grumman Acquires Orbital ATK

Rocket Motor Igniting


Northrop Grumman awarded Rocket Systems Launch Program contract (RSLP)

Northrop Grumman is conducting aging surveillance and motor disposal efforts on Minuteman and Peacekeeper motors.


Executing GSSC

Today, Northrop Grumman is the industry lead on ICBM’s Ground Subsystems Support Contract, performing sustainment, development, production and deployment of hardware and system modifications for Ground and Airborne Launch Control Systems, launch facilities and associated infrastructure. These hardware and software modifications extend the life of the 450 Minuteman launch facilities and 45 launch control facilities for command and control of 400 deployed ICBMs across five states, protecting our nation, assuring our allies and deterring our enemies.

missile trail in space


Northrop Grumman Awarded Contract to Replace Aging ICBM System

Through our trusted partnership with the U.S. Air Force, Northrop Grumman’s Sentinel (GBSD) nationwide team is committed to providing a system that is capable, safe, secure and reliable – and ready at a moment’s notice. Together, we are defining what’s possible for providing an enduring weapon system that remains on cost and on schedule.