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Air Force marks 50 years since first Minuteman III ICBMs put on alert

"An unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile launches during a developmental test at 12:33 a.m. Pacific Time Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2020, at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif." (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Clayton Wear)

CASPER, Wyo. — The Air Force said on Tuesday that 2020 marks 50 years since the first nuclear capable Minuteman III Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM) were put on alert.

“Fifty years ago, on Aug. 19, 1970, Strategic Air Command placed the first flight of 10 Minuteman III ICBMs on alert at Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota, at the 741st Strategic Missile Squadron,” the Air Force said.

The Minuteman III ICBMs are located across five states:

  • Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota
  • Malmstrom AFB in Montana
  • F. E. Warren AFB in Wyoming, Nebraska and Colorado

“The Minuteman III was the first ICBM designed to carry the Multiple Independently targetable Re- entry Vehicle capability, or MIRV,” the Air Foce says. “This configuration allowed individual targeting upon release for each of the weapon’s three warheads. The nation’s ICBM program dates back to 1959.”

“The Minuteman III has stood guard more than one-third of that time when matched against the Air Force’s previous on-alert ICBM systems— Atlas, Titan I, Titan II, Minuteman I, Minuteman II, and Peacekeeper.”

The Air Force says that the Minuteman III originally had a projected service life of 10 years, but “a series of life-extension programs” allowed the ICBMs to remain in service far beyond that.

The Air Force is planning to implement a new system to replace the Minuteman III. They plan to begin their project to convert to a “Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent” system at F.E. Warren as early as 2023.

“Until GBSD comes online fully, we must continue to take the actions necessary to ensure Minuteman III remains a viable deterrent for the Nation,” Air Force Global Strike Command General Tim Ray said in the Air Force’s announcement. “24/7/365 our missiles remain on alert, lethal and ready, providing the deterrence necessary to allow the rest of the Nation to sleep peacefully at night.”

“We all owe a large debt of gratitude to the missileers, maintainers, security forces and countless others, who held the watch over the past generation. However, the Minuteman III is 50-years-old. It’s time to modernize and bring on the GBSD.”

Major General Mike Lutton, commander of the 20th Air Force, added: “My hat’s off to the Airmen across 20th Air Force who continue to operate, maintain, secure, and support Minuteman III after 50 years of service to the nation. This is a proud moment worth reflecting upon—especially for the world’s most respected and feared global strike team.”

This article originally appeared on Oil City News. Used with permission.