Minuteman III launch from Vandenberg AFB.
The Minuteman missile was named for the American Revolutionary War militia who could (as legend has it) be ready to fight in one minute. Unlike most of its predecessor ICBMs such as Atlas and Titan I, Minuteman can be launched very quickly because of its solid-fuel rocket motor. Titan II was liquid fueled but could also be launched very quickly. Early in the program it was known as Weapon System Q but renamed to Minuteman around February 1958. Minuteman I was known as SM-80, LGM30A/B, and HSM-80A/B. Minuteman II was known as LGM-30F. Minuteman III is known as LGM-30G. Minuteman III was designed for three warheads but the START-II treaty would have reduced this to one per missile and the US began to modify Minuteman missiles accordingly. By the time START-II was ratified it had been bypassed by other treaties that do not address this issue. At this time I do not know if all or some or none of the Minuteman missiles have more than one warhead. The three stages of Minuteman III missiles are manufactured by three different contractors (Thiokol, Aerojet-General, and United Technologies). Fifty Minuteman III launch facilities (and five alert facilities) around Warren AFB (flights P through T) were converted to the Peacekeeper (MX) system in the late 1980s but as of October 2005 all fifty have been retired and the facilities decomissioned.
As of 2005, Warren's missiles have been reduced to one warhead. But those at Minot and Malmstrom will have a mix of between one and three warheads (this may have changed since 2005). A good discussion of the current and future ICBM status entitled "The ICBM Makeover" (by Adam J. Hebert, Air Force Magazine, 88, no. 10, October 2005 pages 1-13) at http://www.airforcemag.com/MagazineArchive/Documents/2005/October%202005/1005ICBM.pdf. Also see "Making It Without a Minuteman IV" also by Adam J. Hebert, June 2007 http://www.airforcemag.com/MagazineArchive/pages/2007/june%202007/0607minuteman.aspx which discusses future incremental updates to Minuteman III.
A retrospective of Minuteman on its 40th birthday entitled "Minuteman Turns 40" by Bruce D. Callander (March 2001) is at http://www.airforcemag.com/MagazineArchive/Documents/2001/March%202001/0301missile.pdf.
http://www.astronautix.com/lvs/minteman.htm Chronolgy of Minuteman.
The Minuteman I second stage was also used for the Aries launch vehicle, for Strategic Defense Initiative tests. See http://www.astronautix.com/lvs/aries.htm.
Above: a depiction of a Minuteman flight profile. Click for larger image.
Minutemen are deployed in groups of ten per flight with an eleventh site as a Missile Alert Facility (MAF) which consists of an above-ground structure, an underground Launch Control Center (LCC) staffed by two officers, and a Launch Control Equipment Building (LCEB) which is also underground. MAFs were formerly known as Launch Control Facilities (LCFs) but terminology was changed when Strategic Air Command (SAC) was disbanded. A MAF has a single large "ranch style" building, and optionally a landing pad for helicopters, large radio tower, large "top hat" HF antenna, vehicle garage, and sewage lagoon(s). Less visible will be satellite antennae and perhaps a basketball court. Actual configuration can vary; early MAFs did not include the underground LCEB, Minuteman II sites were quite different, and radio communication equipment varies depending on local terrain, among other factors. http://fas.org/nuke/guide/usa/icbm/mm3-MAF11.jpg is an impressive photo of the underground structures as they were being built.
The Launch Facilities (LFs, i.e. missile silos) are unmanned and are connected to the MAF/LCC by the Hardened Intersite Cable System (HICS). In addition, sites built for Minuteman II employed a medium-frequency radio system. LFs can also be controlled by external sources such as an airborne command center if needed, and in the event an LCC becomes inoperable, by another nearby LCC. The most prominent feature of Minuteman and Peacekeeper LFs is the Improved Minuteman Physical Security System (IMPSS), a tall white "spike" perhaps 20 feet tall that lets the launch crews know if somebody is on site.
Cathodic Protection: An electrical technique to inhibit corrosion. Utilized at Minuteman and Peacekeeper sites, the equipment is placed well outside the enclosure so that civil engineering personnel can monitor it and make adjustments without entering the enclosure. It is surrounded by posts and fencing to protect it from livestock, with an opening large enough for a person to access it. They usually consist of two locked boxes: one for electrical connections and a larger one for the equipment. The larger box has a small opening and a cover which allows viewing two meters to check operation. There may also be a covered hole in the ground nearby, the lid says "control valve." In most cases the equipment itself was made by Universal Rectifiers who is still making similar units, see http://www.universalrectifiers.com/Air%20Cooled%20Standard%20Line.html. A few sites have a sloppy blob of concrete with a simple brass marker embedded; if this was a survey marker it was done poorly, the concrete moves easily and in some cases has done so merely from erosion. Markings on the brass plug include an "X" and the site designation followed by the letter "B" with the latter occasionally stamped backward. Minuteman sites (at least, around Warren AFB) have a new and simpler fence, using wood planks and a metal gate.
When Minuteman LFs were first built in the 1960s, missile guidance was accomplished in part using stars as an external reference. This included theodolite posts (also known as azimuth markers), shown above, as part of the process. No longer needed, they are occasionally dug up to remove them as a nuisance to farming. I received the following detailed explanation via email: The posts ... were used in targeting and alignment of the guidance set on the missile. There are two posts at each site situated in a northerly direction from the site. There was a metal plate on top of each post during the alignment procedure, a target was placed on each plate and a theodolite was situated on the site near the personnel access hatch. Readings were taken on the targets and on Polaris and then transferred down into the launch tube thru a one foot (approximately) diameter tube to a mirror on a collimator bench attached to the east wall of the first level equipment room and then into the guidance set thru a window in the side of the guidance enclosure. The procedure was done at night so the heat waves wouldn't affect the readings. After the guidance sets were changed to an inertial guidance system, metal plates were welded over the ends of the tubes and I think the tubes were filled with concrete. The posts are no longer used but the Air Force has determined numerous times that it would not be cost effective to have them removed. In the Environmental Impact Statement regarding Peacekeeper deactivation it is suggested that after retirement, landowners can request that the Air Force remove these markers.
Security is excellent; it's been said that it takes about 45 minutes for a team to get through the personnel entry system when they know all the proper combinations and procedures. This entails first removing a weather cover to access the "A-plug" (also called the "A-circuit") and using a combination provided by secure radio to unlock and remove the plug, which then allows retraction of a locking bolt for the Personnel Access Hatch (PAH). In the image above you can see the horizontal locking bolt pointing towards the PAH.
Early hatches may have been as light as 2,000 pounds (some sources quote 2,000 pounds, others claim 2,700 pounds) and were raised with a hand-cranked screw jack. In the first image above you can see a partially-raised hatch, the hand crank, and the very large hook that mates with the locking bolt. Hatches of later construction (such as Minuteman II sites) may have been as heavy as 5 tons and were opened via hydraulics. In the third image above the larger-style PAH is on the left, and the silo itself is exposed with the Launcher Closure Door retracted.
After opening the PAH the next obstacle is the "B-plug" (drawing above, at arrow and shown in its lowered/open position) which blocks a 42-inch-diameter shaft and requires a second (and possibly a third) combination be sent to a separate team to unlock, which is followed by an intentional time delay before the plug can be lowered. The B-plugs of active LFs have been receiving an upgrade to allow them to be raised quickly if needed, as described in an article at http://www.warren.af.mil/news/story.asp?id=123041905 which is no longer available, even on archive.org. However I did keep the text from a different article that mentions it: missile/warren-new-warheads-new-primary-hatches.html. These are known as the Fast Rising B-Plug Kits. A Boeing press release is here. An article "Minuteman III makeover" that also discussed the B-plug is here. A photo tour of entering an LF, including views of a B-plug, is here.
The Launcher Closure Door (LCD, i.e. silo lid) weighs 110 tons (this according to a pamphlet from Warren AFB; a Washington Post article quoted a figure of 90 tons). For ordinary maintenance it is slowly opened with a hydraulic pusher (it is also locked from the inside by a massive bolt so the door cannot be moved from the outside alone). For launch it is opened via fast-acting gas generators coupled with very large pneumatic actuators. A story from an early Vandenberg launch is that the door opened with such force that it continued into the chain-link fence, ripped out the entire fence and drug it across the silo. The resulting launch was a failure because the missile was snared by the fence. In photos and videos of Vandenberg sites the door now slides into bumpers to arrest its motion rather than continuing on its own. In the image above, a test in the field includes opening the LCD after first building up a large set of sand bags to prevent damage to the door or the enclosure fence. Notice the Payload Transporter straddling the silo itself, presumably as insurance in the very unlikely event the missile were to launch during the test. A very large (6.5 megabyte) version of the image is at http://www.20af.af.mil/shared/media/photodb/photos/090505-F-9184R-077.jpg.
(Air Force image)
In 2009, a new security system was observed consisting of several cameras and a HughesNet satellite dish. Some research uncovered the Remote Visual Assessment Program (also known as "Prairie Hawk") which is in support of the ICBM Security Modernization Program. Northrop Grumman Mission Systems was awarded $33.5 million to install the cameras (though other sources claim $13.5 million was requested, with $10.5 million being the final amount). Another HughesNet dish is installed at the MAFs. These can be used to assess a situation and determine false alarms, and in other cases they can give the response team a better awareness of what they are heading towards.
Many diagrams of LFs, MAFs, LCC, etc. were on Rusty Barton's web site, see http://www.geocities.com/minuteman_missile/diagrams.htm (which unfortunately has died, and archive.org didn't save much).
Site numbering can be confusing. Boeing built the Ground Electronic System (GES) for Minuteman I such as Warren AFB, and these denote flights with a single letter (A-U); the MAF is always -01 and its LFs are -02 through -11. Sylvania built the GES for Minuteman II sites (Grand Forks, and one squadron of Malmstrom which has been retired); the MAF was always -00 and the LFs were -01 through -10, or -11 through -20, up to -50 then they started over. But some Minuteman I sites were upgraded to Minuteman II and the capsules are quite different from "real" (original) Minuteman II which are called "Deuce" (which refers to the weapon system not the sites). Sylvania capsules are much larger (and have been described as "harder"), and used special light bulbs only available from Sylvania. There were no Minuteman III sites built, they were all upgrades and thus retain their original numbering; the same was true of Peacekeeper sites which were all upgrades of Minuteman III sites which started out as Minuteman I sites. Often a leading zero will be dropped, for example D-01 is often spoken as D-1 or Delta-1 and signs at the LFs may or may not have the leading zero. Vandenberg AFB has its own designations which may simply be based on when a facility was built.
Originally there were 1,000 Minutman missiles in six areas but this has been reduced to 400 in three areas. Still-active bases include Warren AFB (Wyoming), Malmstrom AFB (Montana), and Minot AFB (North Dakota). Grand Forks (North Dakota), Ellsworth AFB (Rapid City, South Dakota), and Whiteman AFB (Missouri) have all been removed from service per treaties and the facilities destroyed. The total number was then reduced from 450 to 400 per the New START Treaty (https://web.archive.org/web/20140413124747/http://www.defense.gov/documents/Fact-Sheet-on-US-Nuclear-Force-Structure-under-the-New-START-Treaty.pdf); retired silos are scattered, not concentrated at one location (http://afmissileers.com/Mar17.pdf, page 16). This latest reduction was completed on June 2, 2017, and the LFs placed into warm status (monitored as if on alert) (http://www.afgsc.af.mil/News/Article-Display/Article/1234307/af-meets-new-start-requirements). While the article claims the reduction was spread equally, that would mean 133.333 missiles per field so there must be some slight inequality they are not talking about. Also unspecified is which specific LFs are empty.
What happened to all the Minuteman I and Minuteman II missiles, let alone the Minuteman IIIs removed from service? Some have been used as targets for missile defense tests, and I've heard of at least one space launch. For example, see http://www.ast.lmco.com/launch_msls.shtml (which has died, try http://web.archive.org/web/20030618094509/http://www.ast.lmco.com/launch_msls.shtml; this implies Lockheed Martin has dropped their Multi-Service Launch Systems (MSLS) program which utilized retired Minuteman II boosters; it is also possible the program went black (secret) because MSLS was to be used for testing missile defense systems, or the name has changed to Payload Launch Vehicle (PLV)). The government is now making Minuteman II missile segments available to Orbital Sciences Corporation (now Orbital ATK). They take the first two stages, plus their Pegasus rocket, and call the combination the Minotaur I. See http://www.orbitalatk.com/flight-systems/space-launch-vehicles/minotaur/default.aspx. On December 11, 2006, the first Minotaur I launch from a new facility in Virginia occured, see http://www.spaceflightnow.com/minotaur/tacsat2/061208preview.html and http://www.spaceflightnow.com/minotaur. See also http://www.spaceflightinsider.com/organizations/orbital-sciences-corp/missiles-minotaurs-orbital-atk-converting-minuteman-icbms-launch-vehicles.
A very curious re-use of an old Minuteman involved sinking it in a former rock quarry now used for scuba diving. http://www.rockdivers.com/scubaimages.htm except that link has died, try: http://web.archive.org/web/20050311110512/http://www.rockdivers.com/scubaimages.htm. The location appears to have some other aerospace junk including an F-4, possibly a Titan, and junk from SpaceLab. It is called the Madison Aquatic Park, in Alabama, see http://www.dtmag.com/dive-usa/MadisonAquaticParkAL.html except that link died, see http://web.archive.org/web/20060216112203/http://www.dtmag.com/dive-usa/MadisonAquaticParkAL.html.
One of the standard references for Minuteman locations is the book
"Nuclear Heartland" edited by Samuel H. Day, published in 1988.
While it's a highly political book it is also very good at listing the
location of every Minuteman LF and MAF (though not by latitude/longitude).
In early 2016 I noticed there is a new revision which deals only with the
current 450 Minuteman sites; I have not read this and I haven't seen
much in the way of a review. See
There was a curious program called the Air Mobile Feasibility Test where a Minuteman I was dropped from a C-5A on October 24 1974 near Vandenberg AFB. It flew a short distance downrange because it had a small amount of fuel. This was one of the more ambitious mobile-launch ideas for an ICBM, others included railroad cars and trucks. Though the feasibility was proven there were no further tests. Previous tests were done with concrete slabs, then inert missiles, then this limited live-fire test. A short YouTube video about this test is at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=It7SQ546xRk.
And in 2005, the basic concept was once again tested. On October 7 an inert 65-foot rocket was dropped out of a C-17 cargo plane. See http://www.af.mil/News/ArticleDisplay/tabid/223/Article/133119/edwards-darpa-explore-new-c-17-capability.aspx. (U.S. Air Force photos)
A spurious claim is that a Minuteman I is moving at Mach 1 by the time it travels its own length from the launcher. This claim was made at http://www.edwards.af.mil/moments/docs_html/59-02-17.html for example except the link has died, so try http://web.archive.org/web/20061207105833/http://www.edwards.af.mil/moments/docs_html/59-02-17.html. I estimated this would require an acceleration of around 156 Gs which is an absurdly high number. If you take the claimed weight and thrust of a Minuteman I it actually works out to around 2 Gs at launch.
Minuteman missiles on display, courtesy of a list from Rusty Barton which he posted to the missile_talk group on Yahoo (his web site listed these and had photos, at http://www.geocities.com/minuteman_missile/displays.htm although his web site has died, try http://web.archive.org/web/20050111172426/http://www.geocities.com/minuteman_missile/displays.htm which does not include images).
3.5 miles S Boron CA
Patrick Air Force Base and Cape Canaveral Air Station seem almost synonymous. The Cape has two Minuteman launch complexes, each has a flat pad and a silo. Both complexes have been retired; LC-31 contains the remains of the space shuttle Challenger.
The People: It gets a bit confusing because wings and other units have been reorganized and renamed several times. Currently the 45th Space Wing oversees most (all?) missile launches. At one time or another subordinate units included the 4800th Guided Missile Wing, and the 6555th which has been a Guided Missile Wing, Guided Missile Group, and Aerospace Group. See for example http://www.afhra.af.mil/factsheets/factsheet.asp?id=9692.
|Patrick||28-27-12 80-33-20||LC-31 and LC-32|
Vandenberg Air Force base (see http://www.strategic-air-command.com/bases/Vandenberg_AFB.htm) is on the west coast of southern California, near Santa Maria. It is most commonly associated with tests and development of military missiles but is also used to launch polar-orbiting satellites. It had almost completed a space shuttle launch facility when the Challenger accident occurred, causing the air force to rethink launch methods and abandon shuttle launches. For Minuteman they have many launch facilities along the coast in the northernmost corner of the base.
Google Maps Google Maps
17 miles SW Santa Maria California
|The launch facilities for Minuteman are strung out along the north coastline thus the coordinates are general.|
Because there are so many Minuteman sites I've split them into separate web pages by area (support base).
F. E. Warren AFB, Cheyenne Wyoming
Minot AFB, Minot North Dakota
Malmstrom AFB, Great Falls Montana
Grand Forks AFB, Grand Forks North Dakota (retired)
Ellsworth AFB, Rapid City South Dakota (retired)
Whiteman AFB, Missouri (retired)