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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

American Forces Press Service

Minuteman ICBMs Soldier on As Peacekeepers Get Mothballed

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 26, 2004 - The U.S. military will upgrade its Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles while retiring its Peacekeeper missile force, a senior officer told a Senate subcommittee March 25.

The larger, multinuclear-warhead-carrying Peacekeeper ICBMs are being decommissioned as part of the Moscow Treaty brokered between the United States and Russia in May 2002.

"With Peacekeeper deactivation proceeding as planned, the Air Force has implemented an aggressive life extension program for the Minuteman III ICBM force to ensure weapon system reliability through 2020," Navy Adm. James O. Ellis Jr. explained to members of the Senate Strategic Forces Subcommittee.

Ellis heads the U.S. Strategic Command at Offutt Air Force Base, Neb., which oversees U.S. military global strategic planning, including nuclear deterrence.

Ellis noted "reliability upgrades" would be performed on the Minuteman III's critical components. These, he said, include replacement of the missile's guidance and propulsion systems.

First deployed in 1986, the Peacekeeper is a four-stage rocket system designed to carry 10 nuclear warheads, according to a U.S. STRATCOM fact sheet. There are now about 50 Peacekeepers.

The Minuteman, a smaller, three-stage rocket system, has undergone numerous improvements since it was first deployed in the early 1960s, according to STRATCOM. The Minuteman III version, deployed in 1970, was designed to carry three nuclear warheads, according to an Air Force fact sheet, but a 1992 arms treaty reduced its payload to one warhead.

About 500 Minuteman IIIs are in the U.S. nuclear arsenal, according to STRATCOM. Ellis said the Minuteman III will become America's sole land-based nuclear-warhead carrying ICBM system after the Peacemaker is retired.

President Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin signed the Moscow Treaty on Strategic Offensive Reductions, an arms-control agreement that called for the two countries to substantially reduce their strategic nuclear arsenals over the next 10 years, on May 24, 2002, in Moscow.

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