New nuclear weapons upgrade work brings jobs to Hill Air Force Base

Tuesday , October 10, 2017 - 3:45 AM

MITCH SHAW, Standard-Examiner Staff

HILL AIR FORCE BASE — The Department of Defense’s ongoing effort to upgrade the United States’ nuclear weapons program continues to bring jobs to Northern Utah

Earlier this month, the Air Force awarded two multi-million dollar contracts to upgrade the system military planes use to launch intercontinental ballistic missiles from ground-based silos.

The contracts, which both run three years, were awarded to Lockheed Martin Space Systems and Rockwell Collins Inc. and total $81 million and $76 million respectively.

According to an Air Force news release, the contracts begin an effort to modernize the “nuclear command-and-control mission” system that allows the U.S. Strategic Command to launch ICBMs from the Navy’s E-6B Mercury aircraft.

U.S. ICBMs require alternate launch control capabilities — a contingency that’s in place if something were to prohibit the ground-based facilities from launching the ICBMs themselves.

For the currently used Minuteman III ICBM, that alternate launch capability is made possible by 1960s-era radio equipment at each of the 450 Air Force ICBM launch facilities across the U.S. The DoD says the nearly 60-year-old gear and similarly aging equipment on the Mercury aircraft needs to be replaced. 

The program to do it is overseen by Hill Air Force Base’s Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center program office, and the plan is to finish upgrading the system by 2024.

Maj. Gen. Scott Jansson, commander of the center, said the new system will be made to “address new technologies and threats as they emerge.” 

In an email, Air Force spokeswoman Leah Bryant said in addition to the oversight role, the program office at Hill will also evaluate the prototypes at a test facility on base.

Though there are no hard numbers available yet, Bryant said new government program manager, test, engineering and product support jobs will be coming to Hill. Bryant also said the DoD and the contractors will be hiring for additional support jobs in the program. 

The program office is also renovating a building on base to house the personnel.

The new program dovetails with another that began on base last year.

In December 2016, Sunset Ridge Development broke ground a 75,000-square-foot building at Hill’s Falcon Hill National Aerospace Research Park. The building is being leased by Lockheed Martin and other tenants working to develop a replacement for the Air Force’s fleet of Minuteman III missiles — a 30-year program worth $62.3 billion.

Last year, the Governor’s Office of Economic Development said that program will create 500 new jobs in Northern Utah.

You can reach reporter Mitch Shaw at mishaw@standard.net. Follow him on Twitter at @mitchshaw23 or like him on Facebook at facebook.com/mitchshaw.standardexaminer/.cq ms

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