Northrop Completes Wind Tunnel Tests on Future Sentinel ICBM

Northrop Grumman has announced the completion of wind tunnel tests on the future LGM-35A Sentinel intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).

The trials were part of the US Air Force’s program to modernize the land-based pillar of its nuclear triad and replace its 50-year-old Minuteman III ICBMs.

Sentinel scaled models underwent sub-to-hypersonic simulations to assess the maturity of the design.

Engineers laid out several stages, each with a set of metrics to validate the Sentinel’s capability under various load, speed, and atmospheric conditions.

The simulations also involved missile live-firing, separation, and flight maneuvers.

Minuteman III ICBM missile launch
Unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile during an operational test in 2017 at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. Image: US Air Force/Senior Airman Ian Dudley

Wind Tunnel Testing

Wind tunnel testing is a critical evaluation phase for missile performance, according to Northrop Grumman.

“This wind tunnel campaign is an opportunity to put our digitally engineered designs to the test, under conditions that mimic a missile launch,” Northrop Grumman Sentinel Program Manager and Vice President Sarah Willoughby explained.

“Predictions from the modeling correlated with the testing results, giving us confidence in our model-based engineering approach.”

“Data from these tests will inform future engineering decisions as we mature the design and continue on a path to deliver this critical capability to the Air Force.”

Future Developments

Following the trials, experts updated the Sentinel models to produce the missile’s flight hardware.

“Tests were conducted at industry and government-run facilities across the US in under a year,” Willoughby stated.

“This is an extremely complex effort proving the value of digital engineering in helping us move to the next phase with certainty.”

More than 10,000 US personnel are expected to be employed as the Sentinel program progresses, a statement from Northrop Grumman said.

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