Air Force creates steering group for ICBMsThe people in charge of keeping U.S. intercontinental ballistic missiles at the ready are teaming up for the first time with those responsible for extending the life of the aging missiles and their parts suppliers, Air Force officials said.
By: By Matt Volz, The Associated Press , The Jamestown Sun
HELENA, Mont. — The people in charge of keeping U.S. intercontinental ballistic missiles at the ready are teaming up for the first time with those responsible for extending the life of the aging missiles and their parts suppliers, Air Force officials said.
The ICBM Sustainment General Officer Steering Group held its first meeting this month at Malmstrom Air Force Base, with the goal of making sure those who maintain the nuclear-tipped missiles and those who are modernizing them are on the same page in keeping them alert-ready while upgrading their technology.
The participants included Air Force nuclear weapons and logistics commanders, plus the commanders from Malmstrom, F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming and Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota. Also in attendance were high-ranking officers from Global Strike Command, which oversees the nation’s nuclear equipped bombers and ICBMs, and a representative from defense contractor Northrup Grumman.
The four-day meeting was held behind closed doors and much of what was discussed is classified information, Malmstrom spokeswoman Valerie Mullett said. But the group was not meeting to discuss a recently signed U.S.-Russian treaty to cut nuclear stockpiles by 30 percent, Air Force officials said.
The aim is for the different groups to come together to set priorities, when at times in the past their missions have been at odds, Col. Kevin Betz, Global Strike Command’s deputy director for logistics, installations and mission support, said Wednesday.
“You want to make sure you optimize the transition between sustainment and modernization,” Betz said. “By getting folks together to talk, we make sure we understand each other. It’s kind of like walking a mile in another person’s shoes.”
There are 450 Minuteman III ICBMs in Montana, North Dakota and the Wyoming-Colorado-Nebraska triangle. The Minuteman IIIs were first fielded in the 1970s, and the Air Force’s goal is to extend their life through 2020. It also is studying how the weapons systems can be sustained until 2030.
The Air Force has committed nearly $6.2 billion to such life-extension programs, according to Malmstrom’s Web site.
“We have today a very viable weapons system that is over 30 years old that is more capable than it was when we first started,” Betz said.
Global Strike Command, based in Barksdale, La., in February took over the consolidated Air Force nuclear arsenal. It organized the steering committee as the first phase in this effort to better coordinate “priorities and synergies” and plans for it to meet every six months, Betz said.
In a second phase, people responsible for modernization of the ICBMs will be assigned to work next to their counterparts in charge of maintenance to ensure they work and allocate resources together, he said.
The meeting comes on the heels of a nuclear arms reduction treaty signed by President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev that calls on both sides to reduce their nuclear warheads over the next seven years by 30 percent, to 1,550 from a previous maximum of 2,200. The new START treaty also calls on limiting to 800 the number of missiles, bombers and submarines used to launch the warheads.
A week after the treaty announcement, the Defense Department released its Nuclear Posture Review that said the agency will spend the next two years reviewing how many ICBMs should remain in silos in the region.
Air Force officials said the newly formed steering committee has nothing to do with the treaty or the nuclear posture review released by the Defense Department a week later.
“We’re aware of what’s going on with new START and the Nuclear Posture review, but these kinds of things are happening independently,” said Col. John Thomas, spokesman for Global Strike Command. “Once decisions are made on the force structure by the Department of Defense, we implement them.”