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LGM-35A Sentinel missile programme EMD certification revoked amid Nunn-McCurdy budget breach

An artist's portrayal of the Northrop Grumman LGM-35A Sentinel ICBM. (Northrop Grumman)

The Northrop Grumman LGM-35A intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) programme's engineering, manufacturing, and development (EMD) certification has been revoked, but development is set to continue despite a projected budget breach of 81%, the US Department of Defense (DoD) told reporters on 8 July.

The certification, called Milestone B in Pentagon parlance, was rescinded following the programme's breach of the Nunn-McCurdy statute, of which the US Air Force (USAF) notified the DoD on 18 January. In effect, this means that the Sentinel missile system must revert to the design stage. The Nunn-McCurdy statute requires that defence programmes with costs exceeding 25% of their original estimates must be certified as critical to national security or discontinued.

According to US Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment William LaPlante, the LGM-35A programme is now expected to cost USD140.9 billion, an 81% increase over costs estimated in 2020. The number is likely to be lower following an upcoming 18- to 24-month programme study and budget re-baselining.

Following a 120-day review, LaPlante certified that the Sentinel programme is essential to national defence, no acceptable alternatives to Sentinel exist, the revised cost estimates are judged reasonable, and the programme management structure suffices to control additional potential cost growth.

“I am certifying that the Sentinel programme meets the statutory criteria to continue,” LaPlante said. “But it is important to note that this certification does not indicate business as usual. The programme will be restructured to address the root causes of the breach.”

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