Attrition: Minuteman Squadron Disbanded

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July 31, 2008: The U.S. Air Force is deactivating the 564th Missile Squadron, and it's fifty Minuteman III missiles. This will save the air force about $100 million a year. The actual removal of the missiles costs about $3.4 million. Shutting down the silo complex costs several times that. The biggest savings comes from not having to pay some 500 expensive technicians and other air force personnel to look after the missiles and their silos. The missiles will not be destroyed, but will be stored away, to use used for test firings, or spare parts for the other 450 Minuteman IIIs still in service.

The Minuteman III entered service in 1968, a development of the earlier Minuteman I, which became operational in 1962, as the first solid fueled ICBM. The Minuteman III is 70 feet long, 5.5 feet in diameter and weighs 32 tons.

In the 1980s, a replacement, the Peacekeeper, was developed. This ICBM was 71 feet long, 7.7 feet in diameter and weighed 88 tons. It was a four stage missile that carried ten warheads. The Peacekeeper had the same range as the Minuteman III, but greater accuracy. Because the Peacekeeper came into use just as the Cold War unexpectedly ended, only fifty were ever put into service.

Over the last decade, the air force spent several billion dollars to upgrade and refurbished 450 of the Minuteman IIIs. These now have the same accuracy as the Peacekeeper. The upgraded Minuteman III is expected to remain in service until 2020, at which point it will be replaced by a new missile design. Or maybe not. Current disarmament treaties have the United States reducing nuclear warheads getting below 2,200 in the next few years. Any new ICBM may not replace the Minuteman III on a one-for-one basis.

 


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