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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)


704th Strategic Missile Wing

On July 1, 1957, the 704th Strategic Missile Wing was activated to oversee activities of specific missile training squadrons scheduled to be activated in the coming months. One of these squadrons, the 392nd Missile Training Squadron assumed the duties of training prospective missilemen on the Great Britain-bound Thor IRBM. The first launch facilities completed included seven launch pads and three blockhouses for the conduct of Thor IRBM testing. These complexes would later become known as SLC-1, SLC-2, and SLC-10. On December 16, 1958, a crew from the First Missile Division successfully launched a Thor IRBM, inaugurating the intermediate-range ballistic missile portion of the Pacific Missile Range. The following April, a Royal Air Force crew duplicated the feat.

In January 1958, ARDC transferred the base to the Strategic Air Command (SAC). With facilities under construction for America's first ICBM, on April 1, 1958, Headquarters SAC activated the 576th Strategic Missile Squadron. On October 4, 1958, Cooke AFB was renamed Vandenberg AFB in honor of the late General Hoyt S. Vandenberg, the Air Force's second Chief of Staff.

The first Atlas launcher to be completed (576A-1) was accepted from the contractor by the 1st Missile Division on October 16, 1958. The first Atlas D missile arrived the following February. Initially, the squadron's Atlas D missiles were deployed at complexes 576A and 576B. Complex 576A consisted of three above-ground gantries; 576B had three above-ground coffin launchers of a type that would be constructed at other sites. Each complex had one launch control center.

The 576th SMS launched its first Atlas D on September 9, 1959. Immediately following the launch, SAC's Commander in Chief, General Thomas S. Power declared Vandenberg's Atlas missile operational. A month later, the squadron's Atlas missiles were placed on an alert status. The activation had more psychological value than military value as the reliability of the Atlas D missile was highly questionable. Improved versions were already undergoing production along with launch facilities to support them. As the above-ground sites became operational, construction continued on a buried coffin launcher to hold an Atlas E missile (designated launch site 576C) and work began on two Atlas F silo lift launchers (576D and 5763).

By 1962, 11 prototype Atlas complexes had been constructed at Vandenberg AFB.




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