The Minuteman weapon system was conceived in the late 1950s and Minuteman I was deployed in the early 1960s. Minuteman was a revolutionary concept and an extraordinary technical achievement. Both the missile and basing components incorporated significant advances beyond the relatively slow-reacting, liquid-fueled, remotely-controlled intercontinental ballistic missiles of the previous generation. From the beginning, Minuteman missiles have provided a quick-reacting, inertially guided, highly survivable component to America's nuclear Triad. Minuteman's maintenance concept capitalizes on high reliability and a "remove and replace" approach to achieve a near 100 percent alert rate. Through state-of-the-art improvements, the Minuteman system has evolved to meet new challenges and assume new missions. Modernization programs have resulted in new versions of the missile, expanded targeting options, improved accuracy and survivability. Today's Minuteman weapon system is the product of almost 35 years of continuous enhancement. The current Minuteman force consists of 500 Minuteman III's located at F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyo., Malmstrom AFB, Mont., and Minot AFB, N.D. The last round of base realignment and closing decisions has forced a realignment of Minuteman missiles from Grand Forks AFB, N.D., to Malmstrom AFB. The possible implementation of Start II, means that Minuteman III will become the only land-based ICBM in the Triad.
The Minuteman is a strategic weapon system using a ballistic missile of intercontinental range. Missiles are dispersed in hardened silos to protect against attack and connected to an underground launch control center through a system of hardened cables. Launch crews, consisting of two officers, perform around-the-clock alert in the launch control center. A variety of communication systems provide the National Command Authorities with highly reliable, virtually instantaneous direct contact with each launch crew. Should command capability be lost between the launch control center and remote missile launch facilities, specially-configured E-6B airborne launch control center aircraft automatically assume command and control of the isolated missile or missiles. Fully qualified airborne missile combat crews aboard airborne launch control center aircraft would execute the NCA orders. An extensive life extension program is under way to keep the missiles safe, secure and reliable well into the 21st century. These major programs include: replacement of the aging guidance system, remanufacture of the solid-propellant rocket motors, replacement of standby power systems, repair of launch facilities, and installation of updated, survivable communications equipment, and new command and control consoles to enhance immediate communications.