Air Force Plans to Sustain Aging Nuclear Triad Infrastructure

By Sarah Sicard

By Sarah Sicard

Minuteman III

The leaders of Air Force Global Strike Command expect to continue to operate aging bombers and missiles for the foreseeable future.

"We've got some old equipment, and we are certainly sustaining that, but we need to modernize," said Lt. Gen. Stephen W. Wilson, commander of Air Force Global Strike Command to reporters Jan. 27.

The Air Force Global Strike Command is responsible for three intercontinental ballistic missile wings, two B-52 bomber wings and the only B-2 stealth bomber wing in the country.

While the United States is cutting military spending, other nations like China and Russia, are investing more heavily, he said. "All of our systems that we're using today are old."

The Minuteman I intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) goes back to the 1950s, while the last Minuteman IIIs were made operational in the 1970s.

"They've been on alert 24/7, 365 [days a year] since then. That same infrastructure that was designed in the 50s, built in the 60s, needs to be replaced," Wilson said.

The nuclear triad of strategic bombers, ICBMs and submarine-launched ballistic missiles serves as a "national insurance policy," he added.

The price for the triad is less than one percent of the defense budget, he said. "No one likes paying insurance, but this is an insurance we need to pay" because it deters war.

"Right now, we have the right number of missiles for the mission that we've been given. Our ICBMs can be called 'the ace in the hole,'" he said. However, the capacity has been shrinking steadily. "We reduced the number of weapons that we've had by 85 percent since its peak," he added.

"It's not just the replacement of the missile; it's replacement for the infrastructure that supports it," he said. "There's a lot of improvements we can make to infrastructure of launch facilities."

Air Force Global Strike Command has long-term goals to modernize, replace outmoded equipment and facilities. "The way we built it, designed it in the 50s, we wouldn't do that today, so we're looking at all kinds of options, and … we cast a wide net for all the research labs and DARPA and all kinds of people to help us," Wilson said.

"That's what our new ground-based strategic deterrence is all about," he added. "It's not just the replacement of the missile, it's replacement for the infrastructure that supports it."

Topics: Missile Defense

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