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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Grand Forks AFB

During the early 1950s, as the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union continued, the US Air Force announced plans to build an Air Defense Command (ADC) fighter-interceptor base in eastern North Dakota. The Defense Department chose Grand Forks as the site for the new installation in 1954. Established on August 20, 1956, Grand Forks AFB formed part of the US air defense network, hosting a Semi-Automatic Ground Environment (SAGE) center. Contractors began construction of the base with grubbing operations for the 12,350-foot runway on February 6, 1956.

During February 1956 the Air Force announced that it would build-up Grand Forks AFB to support Strategic Air Command (SAC) bombers and tankers besides ADC fighters-interceptors. The Strategic Air Command transferred the 30th Bombardment Squadron (BMS) (Heavy) from Homestead Air Force Base, Florida, to Grand Forks, assigning it to the 4133rd Strategic Wing. The 30th acquired its first B-52H Stratofortress on April 29, 1962. On February 1, 1963, the Strategic Air Command organized the 319th Bombardment Wing (Heavy) at Grand Forks AFB, replacing the 4133rd Strategic Wing.

The base's primary mission changed dramatically on July 1, 1963, when Aerospace Defense Command (ADC) transferred the base to the Strategic Air Command (SAC) in anticipation of the arrival of the 321st Strategic Missile Wing. The search for a location to place "Wing VI" began in January 1961. Based on military and engineering recommendations, the Department of Defense selected a 6,500 square mile region around Grand Forks in February 1963. A year later, the Air Force announced that Grand Forks AFB would be first to deploy the Minuteman II missile.

On February 28, 1963, it was announced that Morrison-Knudsen and Associates, which had submitted a bid of just over $128 million, would serve as the primary contractor. During the following month, construction began on the first flight of missile silos. Excavations presented relatively few problems. Flooding during the winter and spring of 1964 and 1965 proved to be an exception. Many flooded components, such as diesel generators, had to be returned to the factory for rehabilitation. Labor-management relations were exemplary. There were only two work stoppages. A Missile Site Labor Relations Committee met twice monthly to act on existing or potential problems. Seven fatalities were associated with this project.

On 01 November 1963, the command organized the nation's first Minuteman II intercontinental ballistic missile wing, the 321st Strategic Missile Wing (SMW), while construction began on a Minuteman II missile complex. On November 1, 1964, the 321st SMW was activated. As personnel began to report to the 321st, the wing trained for the day when the Minuteman II missile would be placed on alert status. In March 1965, wing Headquarters found a permanent home in building 306. The 75 foot high blockhouse formerly served as a SAGE Direction Center for the ADC. Later that year, the "LE-4" missile procedures trainer was installed within the Headquarters building. As the Headquarters staff settled into their new home, construction continued on 150 underground silos and 15 launch control facilities, spread out over territory comparable in size to the state of New Jersey. The 321st SMW became operational with the Minuteman II in December 1966.

Construction began for the 321st SMW to upgrade to Minuteman IIIs in 1972, and this project was completed on March 8, 1973.

In 1975, the newly-activated 57th Air Division brought the two wings together under its control. In 1983, the 319th Bombardment Wing transitioned from B-52H to B-52G bombers. The wing swapped its B-52Gs for B-1B Lancers, while acquiring KC-135Rs, in 1987. The 319th Bomb Wing was deactivated May 26, 1994, with the departure of the last B-1B.

With the restructuring of the Air Force in the early 1990s the wing first came under Air Combat Command and then Air Force Space Command jurisdiction. In March 1995, the Base Realignment and Closure (BRA0 Commission selected the 321st Strategic Missile Wing for deactivation. The 321st Missile Group was given a dual mission: To operate, maintain and secure combat-ready ICBM forces for the National Command Authority and to safely and securely transfer its alert responsibilities to the 341st Missile Wing at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Montana.

With the realignment and eventual deactivation of the 321st Missile Group, all inspectable items under START have been removed from GFAFB. The launch facilities and launch control centers are being eliminated in accordance with the START Elimination Protocol. The base still receives short notice inspections with the most recent occurring in December 1999.

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Page last modified: 24-07-2011 03:41:32 ZULU