Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown, Jr. made calls to missileers on alert over the holidays to discuss their mission and thank them for standing watch during the COVID-19 pandemic.
During the calls, Brown discussed the important role missile alert force Airmen play in the vital intercontinental ballistic missile, or ICBM, mission and their incredible response to the pandemic.
“Gen. Brown was very personable,” said Capt. Zachary Todd, 741st Missile Squadron instructor, Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota. “He asked about my family and home life, specifically with regards to how COVID-19 operations have affected the holidays.”
Missile alert crews from all three missile wings, located at F. E. Warren AFB, Minot AFB and Malmstrom AFB, Montana, made drastic changes to alert schedules to ensure the force stayed healthy, without any degradation in readiness. These changes were historic – for the first time in ICBM history, alert crews were pulling two to one week alert tours.
Extended alert tours mean Airmen are spending more time in the missile field, but also limit the amount of changeover a Missile Alert Facility, or MAF experiences, greatly reducing the chances of transmitting the virus. Additionally, longer alert tours increase schedule predictability, allowing for more recovery time and increased integration with defenders and MAF facility managers.
“Meeting people from all sorts of different backgrounds is definitely the best part of being a missileer,” Todd said.
Lastly, Brown thanked the Airmen for their dedication to the mission, even during the holidays, when others are spending time with family or enjoying time off.
First deployed in 1970, with an expected ten year service life, Minuteman III, or MMIII, ICBMs have been operating for 50 years from bases deep in the American heartland. Having undergone multiple life extensions, the Minuteman III will be replaced by a new, more survivable and more cost-effective weapon system: the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent, or GBSD.
The Air Force maintains 400 land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles in the Department of Defense’s nuclear triad. These ICBMs are deployed in hundreds of silos and can be launched and reach targets within minutes, creating a nearly insurmountable targeting problem for adversaries.
U.S. ICBMs are the most responsive leg of the Triad, on alert 24/7/365, and controlled by iron-clad nuclear command, control and communications, or NC3. The hardened and dispersed nature of U.S. ICBMs requires a potential adversary to commit to a massive attack on the U.S. homeland to even have a chance of disabling all U.S. ICBMs – thus enhancing deterrence of an attack.
Twentieth Air Force, the missile numbered air force for Air Force Global Strike Command, oversees three ICBM wings and one nuclear operations support wing, 377th Air Base Wing, Kirtland AFB, New Mexico, and is responsible for operating, maintaining, securing and supporting the U.S. ICBM force.