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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

91st Space Wing [91st SW]

The 91st Space Wing, Minot AFB, ND, is one of the Air Force's three operational missile units. The 91st SW is an element of 20th Air Force, headquartered at F.E. Warren AFB WY, which is a component of Air Force Space Command, located at Peterson AFB, CO. The on-alert missiles assigned to the 91st SW are under the operational control of the nation's strategic war-fighting command, U.S. Strategic Command, headquartered at Offutt AFB NE.

The mission of the 91st SW, whose members are known as the Rough Riders, is to defend the United States with safe, secure intercontinental ballistic missiles, ready to immediately put bombs on target, while deactivating remote sites at Grand Forks AFB, ND.

The wing controls 150 Minuteman III missiles, located over an 8,500 square mile area in north central North Dakota, approximately the same size as the state of Massachusetts. Each missile is located in an unmanned remote site called a launch facility (LF). All LFs are located at lease three nautical miles apart and situated in unpopulated areas. The missiles are housed in hardened underground silos. Each launch facility has all the equipment needed to maintain the missile in a ready-to-launch condition. All activities at the LFs are monitored and controlled from remote, manned launch control centers.

Each LCC is part of a missile alert facility. The wing's 15 MAFs are comprised of a topside facility, which is continually manned by a minimum of eight people, and an underground complex consisting of an LCC and an underground support building.

Located in each LCC, missile combat crews comprised of two officers operate in 24-hour alert tours. During the tour, the crew controls the 10 missiles assigned to their flight, and has the capability to monitor and control an entire squadron of 50 missiles. Launch control centers are interconnected by hardened, buried, wire, cable communications links used by the combat crews for status reporting, coordination of missile programming and launch actions. Thus, each crew can launch any missile in its squadron, not just the missiles in its flight.

The wing has approximately 1,500 operations, maintenance, security, and support personnel working together to keep missiles on alert. The wing is made up of two groups, the 91st Operations Group and the 91st Logistics Group. Five squadrons, a helicopter flight and a standardization/evaluation division are assigned to the 91st Operations Group. Three squadrons and a quality assurance section are assigned to the 91st Logistics Group.

In addition, the special staff functions of manpower and quality, financial management, safety, and history are assigned under the director of staff. The plans and inspections office reports to the wing vice commander.

The annual budget of the 91st Space Wing is $18.5 million.

In 1961, the Air Force selected the land around Minot for a new Minuteman I Intercontinental Ballistic Missile complex. Field construction began on the missile complex in January 1962 with the first Minuteman I missile arriving from Hill AFB, Utah, and placed in Launch Facility A-02 September 9, 1963. In just 26 months, working through two winters, contractors turned the North Dakota prairie into a potent strategic missile force.

The Air Force activated the 455th Strategic Missile Wing and component 740th Strategic Missile Squadron on November 1, 1962. During the following 2 months, the 741st and 742nd Strategic Missile Squadrons administratively came into existence.

In 1963, Minot AFB became the nation's third operational Minuteman base, with deployment of the Minuteman I missile. Today's Minuteman III weapon system is the product of almost 30 years of continuous enhancement. The Minuteman III replaced the Minuteman I in 1971 - the 91st SW was the first wing in the Air Force to receive the Minuteman III. The Minuteman III is a three-stage, solid-fuel ICBM. It has the capability to carry three independently targetable reentry vehicles armed with strategic weapons. Four sets of three targets can be stored in the missile's guidance system. A hallmark of the weapon system is that assigned crews can remotely retarget each missile. A tested system of authentication codes and hardware safeguards ensures Minuteman missiles cannot be launched without valid direction of the National Command Authority.

Minot AFB's organizational makeup changed on 25 June 1968, when the 91st Strategic Missile Wing replaced the 455th Strategic Missile Wing. These changes were in line with Air Force policy in keeping active those units with the most illustrious histories. To preserve the continuity of units with distinguished histories, the 455th Strategic Missile Wing was redesignated as the 91st Strategic Missile Wing. The 91st had organizational roots dating from World War II and had gained recent fame as a B-52 wing operating over Vietnam.

Force modernization characterized Minot AFB during the 1970's. The Air Force selected the 91st SMW to become the first wing to convert to the Minuteman III ICBM. The Minuteman III tripled the striking power and enhanced the credibility of the SAC deterrent force. The first Minuteman III missile to arrive in the field was accepted by the 91st Strategic Missile Wing on April 14, 1970. The following August, the first Minuteman IIIs were placed on alert status. The 741st Strategic Missile Squadron became the first operational Minuteman III squadron in December 1970. By December 1971, the switchover to the new missile was completed. Three years later, the Minuteman modifications made Minot's missiles the most versatile and modern in the world.

Closing out the 1980's, Minot continued to answer America's strategic needs. Rivet MILE, the Minuteman Integrated Life Extension, is a nine-year modification program for missile support systems and facilities. It will maintain the Minuteman III as an effective deterrent into the next century.

The 91st Missile Wing (MW) completed its first major upgrade on the command, control, and communication systems of the Minuteman III ICBM's launch and control centers in August 1996. They did it with the new Rapid Execution and Combat Targeting (REACT) upgrade program. The 91 MW continues to modernize their Missile Alert Facilities (MAF) through "Alert Imaging." A continuing event for the base is the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START). Since the treaty went into force in late 1994, the base received eight inspections, four on the 91 MW and four on the 5 BW, the latest in October 1997. On October 1, 1997, the 91st Missile Wing was redesignated the 91st Space Wing (SW).

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Page last modified: 24-07-2011 03:40:45 ZULU