The US Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center conducted its inaugural full-scale static test fire of the stage-one solid rocket motor that will power the service’s new LGM-35A Sentinel intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).
Taking place at Northrop Grumman’s test facility in Promontory, Utah, the test brought the service one step closer to replacing the current Minuteman III ICBM with the next-generation Sentinel system, which is currently under development.
The Sentinel acquisition program represents a significant modernization of the land-based leg of the United States’ strategic triad.
This open-air test is the first in a series of static fire tests that will validate the design and performance of Sentinel’s three-stage propulsion system during its development. The stage-1 solid rocket motor (SRM) tested is the largest of Sentinel’s three stages and the first SRM to fire upon missile launch.
“This static fire highlights the advances we’ve made in digital engineering and gives us confidence in our ability to translate that into hardware build and test as we continue to make progress on the path to flight testing,” said Sarah Willoughby, vice president, Sentinel, Northrop Grumman. “The results allow us to validate and anchor our stage-one motor performance before entering qualification testing and completing system analyses, key to lowering risk as we mature the Sentinel design and advance towards critical design review.”
Sentinel will be replacing the Minuteman III, which first became operational in the early 1970s. While certain components and subsystems have been upgraded, most of the fundamental infrastructure in use today is the original equipment supporting more than 50 years of continuous operation.
The air force expects the new ICBM to achieve initial operational capability by 2029.