The Minuteman first arrived at F. E. Warren Air Force Base on June 9, 1963. Cost, reliability, and safety issues with the first-generation, liquid-propellant, inter-continental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) led to the early deactivation of the Atlas ICBM force in Cheyenne. The new solid-fueled LGM-30 “Minuteman” missile system not only improved the significant issues innate to its operational predecessors, but also provided increased accuracy and reduced launch times. Although initial concept plans considered deploying the entire Minuteman force of 805 missiles to Hastings, Nebraska, the Air Force Ballistic Missile Committee decided to establish six missile wings spread out across five states. F. E. Warren AFB’s strategic location, in combination with its successful history in missile operations, led to its selection as the fifth Minuteman missile wing. The activation of the 90th Strategic Missile Wing on July 1, 1963 solidified the Minuteman’s place in Cheyenne. By June 15, 1965, missile crews at F. E. Warren AFB controlled 200 LGM-30B “Minuteman IB” missiles.
The initial design of a solid-propellant ICBM was drafted in the summer of 1957. The high costs of operating the Atlas and Titan missile systems, as well as the demonstrated success of the Navy’s solid-propellant Polaris missile, compelled General Bernard Schriever, Commander of the Western Development Division, to establish the WDTQ, an office specifically created to design a solid-fueled, inter-continental ballistic missile system for the Air Force. Led by Colonel Edward N. Hall, WDTQ staff sought to develop a solid-fueled missile that not only met the needs of the nation’s ICBM mission, but also the requirements for the Air Force’s tactical missile program. The new missile system would theoretically be significantly smaller than its Titan predecessor, and less expensive to develop and maintain than the Atlas. A little less than four years later, the first Minuteman missile successfully launched on February 1, 1961, travelling 4,000 nautical miles without a single error. The construction of Minuteman facilities began at Wing I, Malmstrom AFB, on March 16, 1961. The first ten LGM-30A “Minuteman IA” ICBMs were activated in October 1962, when President John F. Kennedy placed the 341st Missile Wing at Malmstrom AFB on stand-by to support the Cuban Missile Crisis.
The first Minuteman series included the LGM-30A “IA” and LGM-30B “IB” missiles. Only the 341st Missile Wing received the Minuteman IA system. Range requirements for the missiles at the other five Minuteman bases required more propellant to the aft dome, as well as a redesign in the first-stage exit cones. F. E. Warren AFB ultimately received the Minuteman IB missile system. A three-stage missile with a range of 6,300 miles, the Minuteman IB was 55.11 feet in length and weighed 65,000 pounds. The missile transported the W-56 nuclear warhead, which produced a yield of 1.2 megatons, or the equivalent of 1.2 million tons of TNT. Unlike its Alpha predecessor, the IB was capable of dual targeting, which afforded its missile-combat crew the ability to switch between two different pre-determined targets. Each of the four squadrons at F. E. Warren AFB controlled fifty Minuteman IB missiles; squadrons contained five flights, which maintained and operated a single launch facility that commanded ten missiles. On June 15, 1965, Strategic Air Command declared the 400th Strategic Missile Squadron fully operational, placing the 200th Minuteman at F. E. Warren on alert and, thus, completing the Minuteman ICBM force of 800 missiles.
Changes in the U. S. deterrence strategy, in combination with the Minuteman’s reduced operations’ cost and increased system capabilities, secured the missile’s place within the U. S. nuclear enterprise. Satisfied with the new missile’s capabilities, Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara approved the Minuteman Force Modernization Program, which funded the replacement of the Minuteman I series with either the Minuteman II or III. The 90th Strategic Missile Wing received the LGM-30G “Minuteman III.” Despite the end of its service life, the Minuteman I highlighted a new era of ICBM operations. The development of solid-propellant ICBMs allowed the U. S. military to provide nuclear deterrence with increased accuracy and safety, while reducing the costs of missile development and operations. The transition to the new Minuteman III system meant the end of the first generation LGM-30. However, the system upgrades implemented in the 1970s brought forth the ICBM which continues to provide deterrence today. The 90th Strategic Missile Wing removed the last Minuteman IB missile from alert on September 3, 1974, and completed their transition to the Minuteman III less than six months later on January 26, 1975.
Kyle Brislan is the Historian for the 90th Missile Wing at F. E. Warren Air Force Base. He is a prior history instructor, published author, and Air Force veteran. His historical expertise includes: military history, early-twentieth century Russian history, and labor history.