The Minuteman is no ordinary weapon: This missile can hit the enemy across the globe, as quickly as you could have a pizza delivered to your doorstep.
The “Big Sticks,” as some call the 60-foot-tall Minuteman III missiles, are just plain old. But the Air Force asserts with pride that the missile system, more than 40 years old and designed during the Cold War to counter the now-defunct Soviet Union, is safe and secure.
¿Safe and secure? Mmm... The Minuteman has indeed been updated over the years and remains ready for launch on short notice, but the items that support it have grown old. Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said the Air Force will find $50 million in this year’s budget to make urgent fixes, and will invest an additional $350 million in improvements over the coming five years. Even that, she said, is unlikely to be enough and more funds will be sought.
Since its initial deployment in 1970, the Minuteman III missile itself has been upgraded in all its main components. But much of the rest of the system that keeps the weapon viable and secure has fallen on hard times. One example is the Huey helicopter fleet, which escorts road convoys that move Minuteman missiles, warheads and other key components. It also moves armed security forces into the missile fields in an emergency, even though it’s too slow, too small, too vulnerable to attack and cannot fly sufficient distances. And It’s also old: The seven Hueys flown daily at Minot were built in 1969. The yearly cost of keeping them running has more than doubled over the past four years, according to Air Force statistics – from $12.9 million in 2010 to $27.8 million last year. “Obviously we need a new helicopter, based on the mission,” said Maj. Gen. Jack Weinstein, who as commander of 20th Air Force is responsible for the operation, maintenance and security of the full fleet of Minuteman missiles.