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Minuteman
Of all the nuclear-armed ballistic missiles deployed by the U.S. Air Force during its nearly 75 years, this is the only one still in service--now going on six decades. Of course the Minuteman missiles placed on alert back in 1962 have since been replaced by newer models, but even the latest of these--Minuteman III--first entered service in 1970, and that was a half-century ago! Like the venerable B-52 that is still flying, its ICBM counterpart has far exceeded the initial expectations of its designers. It has even outlived what was intended to be its successor, the Peacekeeper missile. The first five Minuteman wings, designated with Roman numerals I through V, were built by Boeing. By the time the final wing, Wing VI, was constructed, the Minuteman II “Deuce” missile was ready for deployment and the facilities for it were constructed by Sylvania rather than Boeing. They were so markedly different from Boeing’s that they were colloquially referred to as “Deuce” also. The 150 missiles of Wing VI brought the total number of deployed Minuteman missiles to 950, which apparently made people who like round, even numbers uncomfortable, so one more squadron of the newer Minuteman II missiles was added, but at Wing I rather than Wing VI--giving Malmstrom AFB three Minuteman I squadrons and a Minuteman II squadron, which almost immediately acquired the moniker of the “odd squad.” Squadron 20, as the 564th Strategic Missile Squadron was also known, brought the Minuteman fleet to an even 1,000 missiles, controlled by combat crews continually manning 100 Launch Control Centers spread out over seven Midwestern states (Wings III and VI were both in North Dakota, but Wing V’s missiles were not only in Wyoming, but also Colorado and Nebraska). Each “flight” of 10 missiles, widely separated in super-hardened silos for survivability, is monitored and controlled by a two-officer crew in a similarly hardened underground Launch Control Center. Five of these flights comprise a squadron (50 missiles), and one of the five LCCs is designated as the Squadron Command Post (SCP). Most wings had three squadrons, but at the peak of the weapons system’s deployment, two wings had four squadrons. One SCP at each wing was designated as the wing’s Alternate Command Post (ACP). As time progressed, Minuteman I missiles were replaced with Minuteman IIs, and eventually some of those were replaced with Minuteman IIIs. Like the missiles, the command and control system for them also was upgraded over time. These had names such as Minuteman Modernized (Mod), Improved Launch Control System (ILCS), and Command Data Buffer (CDB). In 1991, the president retired all Minuteman II missiles and the wings that had only those (Wings II and IV) closed. A short time later, the decision was made to close Wing VI, so most of their Minuteman III missiles replaced the Minuteman IIs in the three Boeing-built squadrons at Malmstrom. After Wing VI closed, Squad 20 at Wing I was not only “odd” but unique, as the only remaining Sylvania-built (i.e., “Deuce”) unit. Meantime, one of the four Minuteman units at Wing V had been converted to Peacekeeper, which ended up being retired in 2005, so that squadron closed, and three years later so did the Odd Squad at Wing I, leaving three wings of three squadrons each--a total of 450 Minuteman III missiles--each upgraded by this time with the Rapid Execution and Combat Targeting (REACT) modification. Due to treaty considerations, the number on alert today is somewhat less than 450, but more than 400. About the only thing some viewers might find confusing about Minuteman-related patches is flight patches. For the first several decades, the flights were geographical entities only, designated alphabetically beginning with “A” and going through either “O” or “T”--depending on if the wing had three or four squadrons--with the words of the phonetic alphabet used for each flight. These designations remain, but in more recent times, the personnel manning these were divided up into flights (usually three in each squadron), and these are functional rather than geographic in nature, so they have different designations, and these seem to change from time to time. Anyway, the patches in this section are presented in albums by wing, and the last album contains patches for Glory Trips (actual missile launches from Vandenberg) and Giant Paces (simulated launches at the home bases, called SELMs, for Simulated Electronic Launch, Minuteman), both of which are presented chronologically.
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