Configuring the next generation of ICBM weapons officers

Conference attendees pose during the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent Weapons Instructor Course Conference at Trail's End Club, F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyoming, January 26, 2022. In advance of changes to the intercontinental ballistic missile enterprise, 20th Air Force hosted a two-day conference to resolve how the 315th Weapons Squadron should begin incorporating GBSD into its curriculum and when to phase out MMIII academics.

A recent conference hosted by Maj. Gen. Michael Lutton, Twentieth Air Force commander, underlined that last point as the Air Force forecasts multiple nuclear modernization programs in the coming years.

In advance of changes to the intercontinental ballistic missile enterprise – notably with the replacement of Minuteman III with the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent, Sentinel – 20th Air Force hosted a two-day conference at F. E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyoming, to resolve how the 315th Weapons Squadron – the USAFWS ICBM squadron – should begin incorporating Sentinel into its curriculum and, relatedly, when to phase out MMIII academics.

Currently, in addition to academics on the nuclear enterprise, ICBM weapons officer graduates receive a combined 150 academic hours on their respective Minuteman III weapon system. Creating weapons officers on MMIII will remain critical for the lifespan of the weapon, projected to remain on alert into the 2030s; but with the anticipated operational capability of Sentinel in 2029, many have begun considering alterations to the course’s curriculum that incorporates the new weapon system.

The timing is also ripe for change as the Air Force configures future budget plans and considers how many resources might be needed – to include the potential for more facility space and additional instructors assigned to the 315 WPS at Nellis AFB, Nevada – before the Air Force certifies Sentinel on alert status.

Similarly, given that 2022 marks 10 years since the 315 WPS’s activation, the gathering provides an opportunity to seek feedback from recent graduates and incorporate updates to the syllabus. Though major changes to the curriculum have occurred during that period, participants considered this event the most consequential re-write to the curriculum since courses began more than a decade ago.

PARALLELS

The group invited to the GBSD Weapons Instructor Course Conference in January were tasked with solving those key questions: What should those changes look like, and when should they be implemented?

Lutton determined that the ideal attendees equipped to find answers to those questions were graduates from the ICBM WIC, the “keepers of the weapons school,” he acknowledged. Weapons officers assigned to Headquarters 20th Air Force’s A3 directorate organized the conference.

The two-day conference shared parallels with the ICBM WIC’s origins begun in 2008.

At that time, then-Lt. Col. Lutton, the commander of the 328th Weapons School (Space), was charged with creating a separate ICBM WIC. The instructor who volunteered to administer that standup initiative was then-Maj. Jared Nelson; currently the 20th Air Force A3/6 director, Col. Nelson was charged with organizing the January WIC conference. Also critical in hosting duties was Lt. Col. Katherine Mack, now 20th Air Force’s A3T Chief of Training, Test, and Evaluations. Col. Mack was a graduate of the first ICBM WIC class in 2010.

(In 2012, ICBM curriculum transferred from the 328 WPS to the 315 WPS following activation of the latter squadron.)

In all, nearly two dozen ICBM WIC graduates converged at F. E. Warren AFB’s Trail’s End to attend the working conference, complemented by others with various connections to the 315 WPS.

WORKING GROUPS

Before breaking into groups, Lutton addressed the entire group, stressing that the team’s final proposal “shouldn’t be perfect.” Instead, the intent of this gathering was to begin the process of building a plan, with the expectation that future weapons officers would revisit and revise it as major MMIII/Sentinel transition milestones materialized.

The group also received background briefings from three individuals: Col. Daniel Lehoski, commandant of the USAF Weapons School, offering perspective on how other weapons squadrons have adjusted curricula in response to newer weapons systems; Lt. Col. Andrew Salloum, current 315 WPS commander, providing a history of the ICBM WIC and its current academic objectives; and Lt. Col. Kevin Hummert, Air Force Global Strike Command’s A5/IG, with a classified overview of the MMIII/Sentinel transition timeline.

Following those briefings, each participant was placed in one of three working groups with a unique problem statement: 1) whether to begin incorporating Sentinel instruction into the syllabus immediately; 2) whether to create a separate path for Sentinel students, thereby creating two tracks (alongside one for MMIII students) under the 315 WPS; or 3) whether to integrate multiple mission sets beyond missile operators into the 315 WPS, such as maintainers, security forces, and helicopter pilots, as examples.

For nearly three-quarters of the conference, working group participants mulled over how their respective course of action could become feasible, and where gaps existed within it. Interspersed within these group gatherings, members presented their findings to the entire team and, afterward, incorporated feedback from those engagements upon returning to their respective groups.

On the final afternoon, Lutton offered his preference following one last round of briefing proposals.

CONCLUSION

While the final product incorporated components from each group, the participants settled on an adaptable syllabus that begins incorporating Sentinel into the curriculum immediately. Syllabus writers will attempt to glean as much Sentinel information as they can, integrate that material into the current academic structure, and modify future syllabi as developments warrant. Ideally, once two missile wings had converted to Sentinel entirely, if not sooner, syllabus writers could begin removing MMIII technical data from the course.

Ultimately, the goal for the 315 WPS will be graduation of ICBM weapons officers, not specifically MMIII or Sentinel weapons officers.

Reflecting on the group’s accomplishments – relaying both the historic nature of this event and the importance of their contributions – Nelson remarked that their efforts “will easily lay the foundation of the WIC for the next 30 years.”

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