F.E. WARREN AIR FORCE BASE, Wyo. --
The Air Force met its New START requirements nine months ahead of schedule on Friday, June 2, 2017, when the last of 50 Minuteman III Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) was removed from the final launch facility located in the F. E. Warren Air Force Base missile complex, Wyoming.
This culminates a four year effort of preparing to store the missiles and their various components to actually removing them from the missile field. The first missile was removed in May 2015 from Minot AFB, North Dakota. The empty launch facilities are spread equally between all of the missile wings. Each empty launch facility remains connected to the ICBM network and fully operational. All maintenance and security requirements will be performed on these 50 empty sites.
New START, signed in 2010, requires the U.S. to reduce its nuclear arsenal across the Air Force and the Navy by February of 2018. In order to meet the New START limits, the U.S. Government directed a force structure that would fulfill our treaty requirements while still wielding nuclear forces sufficient to assure our allies and deter our potential adversaries. “The New START reflects an agreement between the Russians and the U.S. regarding how many nuclear weapons are required to maintain our deterrence while managing the costs and manpower associated with the operations, security and maintenance of the weapons,” said Rex Ellis, chief of the F. E. Warren AFB Treaty Compliance Office.
The treaty required the U.S. to drawdown to 700 deployed delivery vehicles between the Air Force’s nuclear-equipped bombers and ICBMs and the Navy’s nuclear-equipped submarines. To meet this requirement, the Office of the Secretary of Defense directed the services to reduce their strategic delivery vehicles to 400 deployed ICBMs, 60 deployed bombers and 240 deployed Submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs). A total of 50 deployed ICBMs were removed from the three missile complexes in Wyoming, Montana and North Dakota.
The drawdown began in 2012 when the three ICBM wings reduced the number of warheads on every fielded ICBM. This task was completed in June 2014. Also in 2012, Air Force Materiel Command began to prepare for the booster stages and other ICBM components as part of the booster pull program. New roads in the storage area of Hill AFB and the Oasis Missile Storage complex were constructed and repaired. Igloo doors were repaired, new heating and air conditioning systems were installed, re-warehousing plans were completed, shipping and storage containers were procured, carriages and lifts were also renovated. In 2015, missile maintenance teams across the missile field began transitioning the Minuteman III silos to warm status by removing the deployed ICBMs from the silos. The total cost to complete the missile booster pull program, to include storage & shipping costs, was $24 million.
“This last pull completes all of the Air Force initiatives,” said Ken Vantiger, Air Force Global Strike Command senior arms control analyst. “We finished six major NST force structure initiatives in a six year period at a cost of $52 million. This was $30 million under budget and ahead of schedule from what was initially programmed.”
The process of transitioning the silos to non-deployed status proved to be a challenging endeavor for the missile wings. “Transitioning the Minuteman III silos involved multiple specialty teams and several days of intense effort, often battling extreme weather and winds at the northern tier missile bases,” Vantiger said.
Three different maintenance teams were required to remove the warhead, the mid phase and the boosters. Security Forces personnel secured the front section and warhead via convoys, and a logistics team at the main base prepared the components to be transported to their final destinations.
While the treaty mandated the process, pulling the ICBMs has positively contributed to the wings’ maintenance mission. “Pulling the boosters provides an opportunity for the wings to inspect each silo and to conduct a full scale refurbishment,” Ellis said. “They have been cleaning them up ever since we started emptying them.”
The nuclear triad remains fully effective and operational in support of the nation’s strategic defense even though the U.S. has significantly reduced their nuclear assets to meet treaty requirement.