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Demolition of final 'Deuce' squadron missile launcher is a New START milestone

  • Published
  • By John Turner
  • 341st Missile Wing Public Affairs

The last of 50 deactivated Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile launch facilities once operated by the 564th Missile Squadron was demolished Aug. 5, closing an important chapter in the 341st Missile Wing's history. The event also marks a significant milestone toward U.S. compliance of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty signed with Russia in 2011.

Lt. Gen. Stephen Wilson, Air Force Global Strike Command commander, and Col. Tom Wilcox, 341st MW commander, watched as Launch Facility T-49, located approximately 25 miles west of Conrad, Montana, was demolished. At around 9:30 a.m., contractors used heavy machinery to bury the site's 110-ton launcher closure door and fill the launch tube with dirt, making it forever unusable as a missile launch site.

"This marks an important day in Wing One's history and brings closure to another yearlong effort that brings us one step closer to New START Treaty compliance," said Wilcox.

The 341st MW currently has 150 Minuteman III missiles on alert.

"Back in June, we finished reconfiguring each of our Minuteman ICBMs to a single warhead, and at this milestone we remove 50 launchers, bringing us closer to our maximum treaty authorization," said Wilcox. "Both of these missions were long-term operations conducted by the ICBM force in a safe, secure, and effective manner and required precision through all facets of execution.  I'm extremely proud of our team!"

This completes Phase I for the permanent elimination of 50 unused launch sites at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Montana, that have been in caretaker status with the 341st Civil Engineer Squadron since 2008. All of the sites are located in the former 564th MS complex northwest of Great Falls, Montana, in Choteau, Pondera, Teton and Toole counties. Demolition began in February and progressed as contracts were awarded.

The final 10 silos recently demolished have entered a 60-day observation period that allows Russia to verify that the launch facilities have been eliminated in accordance with New START. Each site must remain undisturbed until formally removed from the Air Force's accountability for treaty purposes. Russia may choose within 30 days to expedite the process by sending a team to visually inspect the sites.

The limits set by New START require the U.S. to eliminate 103 deactivated ICBM silos by February 2018. The demolition of Malmstrom's 50 deactivated silos fulfills almost half of this commitment. Additionally, 50 launch facilities have already been eliminated at F.E. Warren AFB, Wyoming, and three test silos will be eliminated at Vandenberg AFB, California.

Phase II work began July 21 to pour concrete caps over the first 40 launchers completed at Malmstrom under Phase I, said Rick Bialczak, 341st MW treaty compliance office chief.

The completion of all Phase II work will take several months, said Mark Coleman, 341st CES base real property officer. The sites will remain in caretaker status by 341st CES until the final disposition of the properties is determined.

At its peak, the 341st MW had four missile squadrons at Malmstrom and maintained and operated 200 active Minuteman III launch facilities. Its first three squadrons--then known as the 10th Strategic Missile Squadron, 12th SMS and 490th SMS--were built as Minuteman I sites and were activated in November 1961 through May 1962; all three were fully operational by July 3, 1963. In 1964, the 564th SMS--an Atlas D unit and Strategic Air Command's very first operational ICBM squadron--was inactivated at F.E. Warren and reactivated at Malmstrom in 1965 to become the 341st Strategic Missile Wing's fourth Minuteman squadron.

The 564th SMS was unique here because its sites were built for the Minuteman II weapon system, the Air Force's next generation of solid fuel ICBMs. For this reason, the 564th proudly carried the nickname 'Deuce' squadron.

The 564th SMS was declared fully operational on May 5, 1967, after accepting the Air Force's 1,000th (and last) Minuteman silo. The completion of the Tango Flight launch facilities, in addition to the squadron's Papa, Quebec, Romeo and Sierra flights operating 10 silos each, put the Deuce squadron on full alert.

Retired Master Sgt. Steve Vielleux, who was at launch site T-49 to witness the final demolition, remembers that the 564th SMS had a less official nickname amongst his fellow missile maintainers--'the Odd Squad.'

Vielleux arrived at Malmstrom in 1970 and was a maintainer until he retired in 1992. In 1975, he trained at Grand Forks AFB, North Dakota, to reposture the 564th SMS to the Minuteman III system. He remembers that the Minuteman III required less maintenance to keep them on alert than the previous generation of missiles.

"We fought every day with the Minuteman IIs to keep them on alert," said Vielleux. "When we first got the Minuteman IIIs in there, everybody liked them because even though it was a different system and you had to do a lot of things that were unique to that system, they were much more reliable."

The squadron was officially redesignated as the 564th MS on September 1, 1991.

The 564th MS received continuous modernizations. The squadron transitioned to the REACT-B (Rapid Execution and Combat Targeting) system during the 1990s while the other three squadrons at Malmstrom upgraded to the REACT-A system.

 This difference in targeting systems eventually sealed the 564th MS's fate. In 2006, the 564th MS was the only squadron in the U.S. still operating that weapon system configuration. By then, the Minuteman force across the nation had been reduced to 500 ICBMs at three bases.

The decision to deactivate the 564th MS was made by the nation's defense leaders in accordance with the 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review, which stated, "To achieve the characteristics of the future joint force and build upon progress to date, the Department of Defense will reduce the number of deployed Minuteman III ballistic missiles from 500 to 450 beginning in FY07."

Malmstrom received formal direction from then Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. T. Michael Mosely, dated June 29, 2007, to begin deactivation of the 564th MS. The squadron's final weapon system component was removed from launch facility T-41 on July 28, 2008. The 564th MS was ceremoniously deactivated on August 15, 2008.

Vielleux was also present as the last Minuteman component was removed from T-41 six years ago.

"It was kind of bittersweet to stand out there and know that all these birds that we kept on alert all those years, they're not there anymore," said Vielleux. "It's a finality to the whole thing."