Commentary: Minuteman III still stands for nuclear deterrence 50 years later
By Col. Erik Quigley, Minuteman III Systems Director, Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center
/ Published December 28, 2020
HILL AIR FORCE BASE, Utah --
As the United States wraps up another historical and impactful year, many of us will be relaxing and celebrating a different, but momentous, holiday season. During this much needed downtime, one leg of the nuclear triad will continue to stand as world’s most formidable arm of nuclear deterrence.
Some say that one must create a weapon with the greatest power of destruction in order to maintain global peace. Whatever the reasons may be, the Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) has been fulfilling this role for over fifty years. Serving as the backstop and foundation of U.S. national defense and the defense of U.S. allies since 1945, nuclear deterrence will continue to be the bedrock of U.S. national security, through our holiday season and beyond.
The Minuteman III ICBMs have a long heritage and owe their lifespan to its predecessors, such as the Project Atlas and Titan missiles. Beginning with initial development in 1962 as a replacement to the Titan missile system, Minuteman was the first solid-fueled ICBM ever deployed. With only a ten-year service life, the Minuteman III was not expected to continue for decades, and certainly not into a new millennium.
As the United States modernizes the ICBM, revitalizes the command-and-control architecture, and recapitalizes the associated infrastructure, the Minuteman III will continue to serve our nation until replaced by the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent ICBM. Once the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent missile is deployed, the Minuteman III missile will have completed up to 70 years of service, truly earning the designation of “Minuteman Grit.”
There have been a number of significant events which took place fifty years ago that the Minuteman III team has celebrated throughout this year. These historic feats could not have been accomplished without the dedication and patriotism of missileers, technicians, engineers, scientists, and Airmen. The Minuteman III is the oldest deployed strategic ballistic missile in the world and will continue to fight on until 2040.
Today, the U.S. ICBM force consists of 400 combat-capable Minuteman III missiles that are safe, secure, and effective. The Minuteman III missile bases are located at F. E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyoming; Malmstrom AFB, Montana; and Minot AFB, North Dakota.
The weapon system is operated by and under the control of Air Force Global Strike Command, but supported by the Minuteman III System Program Office, 309th Missile Maintenance Group, and 748th Supply Chain Management Group, all stationed at Hill AFB, Utah.
The entire ICBM enterprise works diligently and is committed to providing an uninterrupted, 24/7/365 commitment to nuclear deterrence, now and into the future.