No Dr. Strangelove Here: USAF Takes Steps to Beef Up ICBM Security
In the 1960s dark comedy Dr. Strangelove, a rogue US Air Force general succeeds in usurping the US “fail-safe” security system preventing unauthorized use of nuclear weapons. As a result, a nuclear weapon is dropped on the Soviet Union, the doomsday machine is activated, and the protagonists argue about who gets to ride out the war in mine shafts.
In the 21st century, the US Air Force is taking steps to make sure that nuclear-tipped ICBMs stay securely in their silos. Through the ICBM Security Modernization Program, the USAF has launched a number of initiatives to beef up silo security.
One of those initiatives is the Remote Visual Assessment Program, which is designed to improve the situational awareness of the security staff around the ICBM silos. To support that program, the USAF awarded Northrop Grumman a $31 million contract…
Other initiatives [pdf] under the ICBM Security Modernization Program include installation of concrete headwork barriers at all silos, replacing silo access doors to enable security personnel to secure silo hatches quickly, and adding surveillance cameras to missile alert facilities and GPS tracking to payload transporter vans.
The ICBM Security Modernization Program is part of a broader modernization program that is being carried out by a Northrop Grumman-led team under the ICBM Prime Integration Contract (F42610-98-C-0001). Other team members include Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and ATK.
The team is carrying out land-based ICBM modernization to ensure the fleet’s readiness for meeting US Air Force mission requirements. See previous coverage of awards under this contract.
The contract covers modernization of thousands of missile propulsion, guidance, re-entry, and ground system components. Some of the larger programs covered by the contract include:
- Safety Enhanced Re-entry Vehicle Program, which is fitting Minuteman III ICBMs with the Mk 21 re-entry vehicle from the decommissioned Peacekeeper missile force – a change that will provide USSTRATCOM planners with increased targeting flexibility and enhanced safety;
- Propulsion Replacement Program, which is remanufacturing motors to replace Minuteman III’s aging propellant to maintain booster reliability;
- Guidance Replacement Program, which is substituting the NS-50 missile guidance set for aging 1960s vintage guidance electronics, improving flight reliability, system maintainability, and nuclear safety;
- Propulsion System Rocket Engine Life Extension Program, which is replacing engine components originally produced in the 1970s that had a 10-year design life;
- Rapid Execution and Combat Targeting Service Life Extension Program, which is updating ICBM command and control capability;
- Minuteman Minimum Essential Emergency Communications Network program, which upgraded communications in all Minuteman III launch control centers and also connected these systems to the Milstar satellite communications system. This link-up ensured that highly reliable and secure instantaneous two-way communication exists among the launch centers, combatant commanders and the commander-in-chief; and
- Improvement to the launch control centers, accomplished through the Environmental Control System program, which is upgrading climate controls to ensure that electronics and ground support systems are maintained at specified pre-set temperatures.