US Air Force Seeks Next-Gen Sentinel ICBM Reentry Vehicle

The US Air Force is seeking information for a new Sentinel intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) reentry vehicle.

The Department of Defense intends to issue contracts for the Next Generation Reentry Vehicle (NGRV) in 2026, the air force said in a solicitation notice.

The service is already developing a separate Sentinel reentry vehicle, the Mk21A, along with Lockheed Martin. 

The Mk21A will carry the W87-1 nuclear warhead, an upgrade on the W87 carried by the Minuteman III ICBM Mk 21 reentry vehicle.

The Sentinel will host both the Mk 21 and the Mk21A. 

The Sentinel

The Northrop Grumman-developed missile will start replacing the 50-year-old Minuteman in 2029, with full deployment expected by 2036.

The Sentinel will have a modular design and open architecture, ensuring reduced life cycle cost, flexibility in components, and capability improvements throughout the weapon’s life.

The NGRV will provide “enhancements in accuracy, lethality, survivability,” the service wrote without providing further details.

LGM-35A Sentinel
The US Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center conducted its first full-scale static test fire of the LGM-35A Sentinel stage-one solid rocket motor at the Northrop Grumman test facility in Promontory, Utah, March 2, 2023. Image: R. Nial Bradshaw/ US Air Force

Multiple Reentry Vehicle Technology

The service plans to deploy one warhead on each Sentinel. However, multiple warheads — two or three — could be considered in response to the evolving security environment, the US Congressional Budget Office wrote in a report.

The report further argued that deploying multiple warheads in a missile allows the service to strike multiple targets with fewer missiles.

The multiple independent reentry vehicle technology employs multiple warheads to strike different targets simultaneously.

Moreover, the maneuverable reentry vehicles can shift trajectory during the final flight phase, making them harder to intercept.

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