Air Force Prepares To Draw Down Minuteman III Fleet By 50 Missiles

Air Force Prepares To Draw Down Minuteman III Fleet By 50 Missiles
April 17th, 2007  
Team Infidel

Topic: Air Force Prepares To Draw Down Minuteman III Fleet By 50 Missiles

Air Force Prepares To Draw Down Minuteman III Fleet By 50 Missiles
Defense Daily
April 17, 2007
By Michael Sirak
The Air Force expects to start decommissioning 50 Minuteman III nuclear-tipped ICBMs later this year, reducing the size of the nation's land-based strategic deterrent by 10 percent, the two-star general in charge of the overseeing the missiles said Friday.
"Our plan calls for deactivating those 50 missiles and using them as test assets so that we can allow the Minuteman III system to be sustainable to 2030," Maj. Gen. Thomas Deppe, commander of 20th Air Force, told a Capitol Hill audience on April 13 during a breakfast speech sponsored by the National Defense University Foundation and the National Defense Industrial Association.
After his speech, Deppe told Defense Daily that the drawdown process is scheduled to be complete within one year of its start. The Air Force is now awaiting Congressional approval to begin the work and is making sure all of the environmental considerations have been addressed, he said. At the earliest, the decommissioning could begin at the end of May, he said.
The Air Force currently has a total of 500 silo-based Minuteman IIIs that are organized into three operational missile wings. They are located at Francis. E. Warren AFB, Wyo., Malmstrom AFB, Mont., and Minot AFB, N.D.
The Minuteman III entered service in 1970, according to the Air Force's fact sheet on the missile. Last year's Quadrennial Defense Review laid out the plans to phase out the 50 missiles (Defense Daily, Feb. 6, 2006).
Deppe told the breakfast audience that the drawdown will result in the deactivation of the 564th Missile Squadron at Malmstrom. The Montana base today hosts 200 Minuteman IIIs, compared to 150 each at Minot and Warren. After the drawdown each missile base will have 150 missiles, he said.
The decommissioned missiles' silos will not be demolished, but rather maintained in a caretaker status, Deppe said. He said he thinks that is a sound decision since it likely would take a long time to reconstitute the silo infrastructure in the event that the United States deems it necessary to expand its future ICBM force.
The Air Force is modernizing the Minuteman III fleet to maintain its viability out beyond 2020 (Defense Daily, July 7, 2006, and Jan. 11 and Jan. 22). Deppe said the upgrades touch on essentially every major component of the Cold War-era weapon system.
"We are basically replacing every part of the missile" including its re-entry vehicle (RV) and guidance and propulsion systems as well as its command-and-control element and security infrastructure, he said. "So basically we have a brand new system out there."
The 50 missiles that will be phased out will also have the upgrades, Deppe said.
"That is good because, when we deactivate the 50, that means that we will have 50 new missiles that we can use as test assets in the 2020 to 2030 timeframe," he said.
The remaining 450 missiles will carry either one, two, or three warheads, with the reconfiguration of the missiles' front ends expected to be complete within the next four or so years, Deppe said.
"At one time we were going to go to a complete force of single RVs," he said. But now, he continued, "We are going to have some combination out there of singles, duals and triples because that is what the Minuteman III can carry....We are not going to go to completely single RVs throughout the force."
Deppe said the Minuteman III system remains an impressive system and "is unbelievably reliable." Still, he said, "it is the people that are really the backbone that operate, maintain and secure this system every day."
The general said his top unfulfilled priority remains the same: a new helicopter to replace his Vietnam War-vintage UH-1N Hueys that perform missile site security functions.
"We want something faster, [and that] can carry more weight, can carry more troops, and we'd like it to be more lethal, maybe armed if necessary," he said. Arming the helicopters would give the missile sites' tactical response forces more teeth if they ever have to recover a missile silo that is overtaken by an enemy, he said.
"I am not looking for the 100 percent solution," Deppe said of the replacement helicopter. "I just want something that is better than what we have got because we are rapidly running out of sustainment capability."
The new helicopter is still years away.
Deppe said, in the interim, each of the three missile wings is going to get an additional Huey, giving each a total of eight helicopters.
The extra helicopters are coming from Vandenberg AFB, Calif., which is standing down its Huey squadron. In addition to the three that are going to the missile wings, 20th Air Force is getting a fourth Huey from Vandenberg that will be used for training, Deppe said.

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