A missile stands on display near Gate 1 of F.E. Warren Air Force Base on Monday, Sept. 30, 2019. Nadav Soroker/Wyoming Tribune Eagle

CHEYENNE – With the deadline approaching to submit bids to replace the nation’s ground-based nuclear missiles, including those at F.E. Warren Air Force Base, only one company is openly preparing an offer.

The contract for the U.S. Air Force’s Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent program is to replace the Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles, which became operational in the mid- 1960s.

Until July, two companies – Northrop Grumman and Boeing – were preparing to submit bids to the Air Force Acquisition Office. That month, Boeing announced it would not place a bid on the project, leaving Northrop Grumman as the only remaining option.

Since then, Boeing has expressed interest in submitting a joint bid with Northrop Grumman, as Boeing spokeswoman Dee Russell said the company could provide valuable expertise, given its long-standing contracting work on the Minuteman missiles.

“We are increasingly concerned that the Air Force’s deterrence mission and the nation’s security will be deprived of the best solution – a proven approach that leverages both companies’ technical strengths and decades of (intercontinental ballistic missile) experience,” Russell said in a statement.

On Sept. 16, Northrop Grumman announced a partnership with several companies in the defense, engineering, cybersecurity and related industries. Boeing was not among those partners, which would work on the project if Northrop Grumman is selected.

Among those included in the partnership was Lockheed Martin, a security and aerospace company that was initially in competition for the project before failing to make the cut down to two in 2017.

As Northrop Grumman moves forward with its newly assembled team, the Dec. 16 deadline will reveal whether Boeing has actually withdrawn, Greater Cheyenne Chamber of Commerce President Dale Steenbergen said.

“We’ll see if Boeing is positioning and what happens between now and then,” Steenbergen said.

Steenbergen said after the submittals in December, his organization will become more involved in finding opportunities for local businesses to work on the project.

The local economic impact of the project has been estimated to be between $4 billion and $7 billion, Steenbergen said, though that impact would be spread over the 15-year lifespan of the project. That estimate was calculated by considering job creation, economic benefits for existing businesses and residual effects.

“We’re early in this process, so we’re just trying to work with contractors to give some idea of what the economic impact is,” Steenbergen said, adding that “$4 (billion) to $7 billion is a very wide margin, but as we get closer to it, we’ll get tighter (estimates).”

F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne is one of three strategic nuclear missile bases in the U.S., along with Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota and Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana. All three bases would be covered by the project, which is estimated to cost more than $90 billion.

Though there may just be one option, the winning bidder will be announced in the fall of 2020.

Tom Coulter is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle’s state government reporter. He can be reached at tcoulter@wyomingnews.com or 307-633-3124. Follow him on Twitter at @tomcoulter_.

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