In August, the Air Force awarded competing development contracts to Boeing and Northrop Grumman for the design of a successor to the Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile. The program is crucial to maintaining America’s nuclear deterrent through mid-century, but the way it is executed could have important consequences for the industrial base. The next-gen missile is the last opportunity for Aerojet Rocketdyne to remain in the large solid rocket motor (SRM) business, because competitor Orbital ATK has pretty much sewn up the rest of the market. Aerojet isn’t in trouble — its business is growing — but it can’t afford to stay in the SRM market if nobody is buying its product. This is a challenge for the Trump administration’s industrial policy, which is aimed among other things at sustaining diverse domestic sources for items vital to national security. Solid rocket motors certainly fit that description — 90% of the warheads in the nuclear arsenal sit on solid-fueled rockets. If Aerojet exits, though, there will be only one source, and if something then goes wrong at Orbital, there will be no source at all. I have written a commentary for Forbes here.
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