Released: Jun 30, 1998
VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. (AFNS) - More than 30 years ago, the first Minuteman weapon system went on alert during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
The Cold War has ended, but the Minuteman III, a variation of the original system, continues to play an active and important role in the nation's defense.
Because it's so important to the nation's defense, the Air Force is taking steps to ensure the Minuteman continues to perform its mission in a reliable manner.
Wednesday's launch from Launch Facility 09 here provided a step in that direction. It marked the first operational launch for the Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Center's Minuteman III Guidance Replacement Program.
The GRP is intended to extend the service life of the Minuteman III missile systems through the year 2025. The Minuteman III weapon system first deployed in 1969 with a 10- to 15-year lifecycle.
"The Minuteman III met and exceeded its design cycle and performed very reliably," said Col. John O'Connor, AFOTEC Space and Missile Systems director. "But, we have seen a number of trends, which was clear from analysis, that in the future if we were to keep the Minuteman an operational system there would be a potential or high probability for reliability problems."
The $2.3 billion upgrade modernizes the guidance system's electronics, and develops new guidance system software. It also replaces certain test and support equipment at the guidance depot and other weapon test facilities.
"What's somewhat unique about the Minuteman requirements of this program is we're not seeking to improve the system," O'Connor said. "We're merely ensuring we have no degradation. Our objective is to verify the system continues to perform as well as the current system. We expect there may be some improvements in reliability and performance, but that was not our objective."
Since the program was initiated in 1993, it has undergone extensive testing in preparation of Wednesday's launch.
"The launch was successful," said Maj. Scott Van Ness, GRP test manager. "Preliminary indications on the GRP looked good."
Officials will have more detailed reports on the launch in the next few weeks. A second dedicated initial operational test and evaluation launch of GRP is scheduled for September. Assuming the next launch is also successful, officials believe the first GRP units will be delivered to the operational wings in 1999.
"People may ask why we're modernizing," said O'Connor. "The world situation is dynamic and there are still many threats. As long as there are nations that are potential adversaries to the United States, we need to maintain a credible deterrent." (Courtesy Air Force Space Command News Service)
* Minuteman III
* Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif.
* Air Force Space Command