15 November, 2014

Profile 93: FINISHED— "The greatest weapon never fired." - the Minuteman I missile

Behold, the Greatest Weapon Never Fired.

Hold that thought.

By the time I reached school, 99.9% of American schools were no longer practicing Civil Defense nuke drills.  But mine did.

See, growing up in North Dakota, we all suffered under the bumpkin anxiety that came from having one of the smallest populations, worst climates and most sheltered cultures in the nation.  Never mind that we were sitting on a bajillion dollars in oil or that you could leave the front door open while on vacation.  North Dakota basically sucked.  Except for one detail in which we were all extraordinarily and diabolically proud:  if North Dakota seceded from the rest of the Union, we'd be the THIRD.  MOST.  POWERFUL.  NATION.  ON.  EARTH.


Missiles.  Specifically, the nuke missiles that were poked into silos all across the state.  And the clinched nuke missile is the venerable LGM-30 Minuteman family.

Have a look up top—it's the LGM-30B Minuteman* I (MM I) missile, the first in a 3-version lineage that not only made North Dakota (almost) almighty but also proved out the bizarre reality that you can win a war by not firing a shot.

Minuteman missile sites.
Courtesy: National Park Service

First deployed near Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana in 1962, 800 of the MM I's were eventually planted in South Dakota, Missouri, Wyoming and of course, North Dakota.  And though they were capable of reaching their targets (presumably in Russia) in about 30 minutes, their real job was to scare the hell out of everyone.  Which they did.

Remember "The Cuban Missile Crisis"?**   It was the Minuteman I that gave President Kennedy the extra confidence to draw a red line through Cuba and tell the Russians to go home.  Can you imagine Russian nukes pointed at us from 90 miles away?  I can't and am glad Kennedy couldn't either.

I remember as a kid listening to an adult scoff at the idea of 'Mutually Assured Destruction' (or MAD).  "Mad?!  More like Madness!  We need to get rid of these (nukes) right now!" he exclaimed.

Movie still from War of the Worlds (1953) where the pastor doesn't use
the sense God gave him
and tries reasoning with the aliens by singing hymns.  He got fried.

The reality is that nukes won't be going away any time soon.  The machinery of diplomacy, national pride and human nature is so complicated, it's going to take decades—maybe more—to truly dismantle the world's nuclear weapons systems***.  Whereas this is a fantastic goal, it's just not realistic right now.  So, in the words of Stanley Kubric's Dr. Strangelove poster, we need to "stop worrying and love the bomb."

"Love? The bomb?!"

Sure!  And it's easy, too.  Follow along.  :)

First, every once in a while, look north and salute the men and women who are making sure that the all-important deterrent factor is real, ready and sharp.  They're called Missileers and though you'll never see their work at an air show (that'd be cool though), they have to serve-out the ironic existence of being able to do what they don't want to do in order that it never happens.
I asked Missileer Col Charlie Simpson (ret) how he processed this peculiar, last-act mission and he stated, "My real mission was ensuring that this (last act) never happened!  Throughout my service, and still today, those of us involved in strategic deterrence know that the real key is to have a force so strong, so flexible and so dedicated to the mission that an enemy would never consider starting a nuclear war."

Second, forget the idea that nukes have only been used twice—once each on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  Instead, know that nuclear weapons have been used every day since and flawlessly, too.  This is where the word "deterrence" comes in.  We don't need a mushroom cloud to know nukes are doing their job.

Thirdly, whenever your talking-head of choice utters the words "Foreign Policy," listen carefully and ask questions until you have an opinion.  The world is a dangerous place and one of a nation's supreme duties is to protect its future from unwanted outside influence.  There's no saying when the next Cuban Missile Crisis is going to pop up but if/when it does, our leaders will be carrying a mega-ton burden.  On our backs.

Next up:  The mighty Atlas missile!

Blast doors of the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site

*Why the name Minuteman?  The LGM-30's predecessors used liquid fuel propellants that took time to prepare for launch.  In the case of the Atlas and Titan I missiles, about 15 minutes for each one.  The Minuteman used solid fuel propellant that could be ignited right away.  As a Missileer about "Guaranteed delivery in 30 minutes or less."

**Kennedy vs. Khrushchev/Castro.  Click here.

***And this is why it's so important that no new nations get nuke tech, too.