Strategic Weapons: August 5, 2005


The U.S. ground-based ICBM fleet is deployed  over 114,000 square kilometers,  about the size of the state of Pennsylvania, and  distributed across the Western United States. Current inventory includes 500 silos for Minuteman III missiles. The last of the 50 Peacekeeper silos and their launch facilities are in the process of being sealed up, with the final Peacekeeper missile scheduled to be removed from alert status on September 19. 

One of the dirty little secrets of the ICBM force is that the government doesn't actually own and control all of the land the silos reside on. The majority of missile fields are on privately owned ranches, with silos and launch facilities having a 15 meter easement around them. Air Force personnel manning the silos travel a cumulative 19 million miles per year to get from bases to the launch facilities, often through snow, on gravel roads, because the locations are so remote.

Currently, half the 9,600 people in the U.S. Air Force ICBM force are dedicated to security, conducting such duties as patrols around the missile fields and stationary guards at silos and launch control facilities. Often, security forces can get called out as many as three times per day for alarms or incidents that require a manned response team to check things over. Currently, missile silos are protected by barbed wire fences and motion sensors, but the Air Force wants to add remote cameras. The motion sensors are so sensitive that a rabbit or tumbleweed often triggers off an alert, requiring a response team to go out and "eyeball" the cause of the alarm. A camera system would drastically cut down on false alarm calls. The Air Force would like to get funding for the cameras in the 2007 budget.

The Air Force also wants to upgrade the helicopter fleet that carries around security personnel. An elderly fleet of 62 UH-1N Hueys currently move response teams around, but the first helicopters entered into service in 1970. The Hueys don't have the range or speed the Air Force wants; for example a Huey can't cross the ICBM facilities at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana without refueling. The Huey has a range of around 480 kilometers and a cruising speed of around 180 kilometers per hour. Replacement candidates include the Lockheed Martin/AgustaWestland/Bell US101, Sikorsky S-92 and the Northrop Grumman/EADS NH90. Doug Mohney


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