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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Maintainers keep Minuteman IIIs ready

by G. A. Volb
Ogden Air Logistics Center Public Affairs

11/30/2005 - HILL AIR FORCE BASE, Utah (AFPN) -- Nearly five decades after the Minuteman entered the United States' nuclear arsenal as President John F. Kennedy’s “Ace in the Hole,” technicians here are working to ensure it continues on active duty for the foreseeable future.

The missile system watched over the nation as the Cold War ended, ground launched cruise missiles were dismantled and the Peacekeeper was recently deactivated. Initially slated for a lifespan of 10 years, the newest modifications will take the granddaddy of deterrence well into the 21st century.

Thanks to Hill’s 526th Intercontinental Ballistic Missile Systems Wing and 309th Missile Maintenance Group, it continues to do the job -- the two teaming up to prolong its longevity. Recently, they cut the maintenance time for the missiles in half, turning them around on time for more than a year now.

“The missiles are transported to Hill from various operational sites around the country as a complete assembly,” said John Grubb, a missile motors flight chief with the 309th MMXG. “That consists of the three solid fuel rocket motors, flight controls, ordnance and the required cabling. Once the missile arrives at Hill, it’s transferred to our missile maintenance facility.” 

The "ordnance," he said, means the charges that separate missile stages in flight, not the actual warhead, which is cared for by the Department of Energy at a different depot.

The 43-year-old native of Layton, Utah, said the “facilities are specially designed for the unique requirements of missile maintenance. We can control personnel access, temperature, lighting, and electrical discharge from employees" -- a necessity given the volatile nature of their working environment.

The missile components are dismantled and its three stages separated, inspected, repaired if needed and tested to ensure they are ready to be reassembled.

“Following strict technical guidelines,” Mr. Grubb said. "Teams of five to seven ordnance mechanics install the flight controls, cabling, ordnance and other components. The assembly process normally averages six to seven days; then the completed assembly is tested to ensure the missile will perform as required.”

“Once it’s reassembled and the testing documentation reviewed by the 526th for accuracy, the missile is ready to be returned to operational missile sites,” said Brent Patton, 309th MMXG missile assembly section chief. “It’s impossible for all this to happen without the technical support and program management provided by the 526th; it’s a joint relationship that helps us meet the requirements of the warfighters in the field.”

Mr. Patton, a native of Pocatello, Idaho, said, “The complexity of the missile system and requirements ensuring each missile works as planned present the team with many challenges. Transportation, facilities, personnel, materials, technical documentation and instruction must all come together flawlessly to be successful.” The 526th and 309th ensure the process is nearly perfect.

It’s a tight-knit relationship that begins every morning at 7, when Mr. Grubb and Mr. Patton go over current issues, progress, and goals, according to Capt. Pat Monahan, 526th ICBM Systems Wing solid propulsion program manager. In the end, however, much of what the two accomplish relies on the almighty dollar.

“Funding is the ultimate driver of production flow,” Captain Monahan said. “For anyone who understands how money flows within the federal government, you can imagine just how complicated it is to execute funds. There are multitudes of checks and balances factored into the funding flow that require many levels of approval and correspondence from agency to agency. Fortunately for us, we have a strong cadre of financial and acquisitions managers that consistently traverses the funding sources to find needed resources.”

Captain Monahan, originally from Basye, Va., said a new Minuteman III would cost the taxpayer around $3.3 million. “Multiply that by the number of ICBMs now on strategic alert (500) and you get a very large number. By providing maintenance and sustainment here for the ICBM fleet, however, the depot saves in the neighborhood of $100 to 200 million of taxpayers' money annually.”

“We understand the mission of our customer and how vital a part the Minuteman plays in the strategic defense of our nation,” Mr. Patton said. “So we all take great pride in producing missile boosters on time, while focusing on safety and quality.” 

The end product continues to play a key role in America’s nuclear deterrent posture.

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