US Air Force’s Sentinel ICBM Program Hit by Two-Year Delay

The US Air Force will have to wait two more years before its Sentinel intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) finally has its inaugural flight test.

A spokesperson recently confirmed to media reporters that the planned December 2023 test was not held due to “increased lead times” for the weapon’s guidance computer components.

He said the first flight will be conducted in February 2026 instead.

Despite the significant delay, the spokesperson claimed that the Sentinel program is still under development.

“The Air Force and [the Office of the Secretary of Defense] continue to work closely together to identify and implement options to reduce risk and optimize schedule,” he told Breaking Defense.

A Rough Path

Developing a new ICBM is part of Washington’s efforts to improve its nuclear deterrence, along with producing submarine-launched ballistic missiles and integrating gravity bombs into bomber aircraft.

One of the service’s biggest and most important modernization projects, the Sentinel is being eyed to replace the land-based Minuteman III ballistic missile.

However, the program has been on a rough path lately, with manufacturer Northrop Grumman announcing that the missile could experience a significant cost increase due to several design changes.

First, the US Air Force wants a new design for ICBM launch facilities because the original silo designs would reportedly not work in modern warfare.

It also wanted to upgrade the copper cables with a higher-performing fiber-optic network, which would require the company to redo roughly 7,500 miles (12,070 kilometers) of underground cabling.

“When they need to access things like the cabling that runs under farmland, they need to secure the agreements of a lot of different landowners,” a company spokesperson said.

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