A roundel celebrating 50 years of Minuteman III history. Air Force graphic by Capt Austin Troya.

Air Force Global Strike Command Public Affairs

The Air Force marks a significant milestone this year for the Minuteman III Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM).

Fifty years ago, on Aug. 19, 1970, Strategic Air Command placed the first flight of 10 Minuteman III ICBMs on alert at Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota, at the 741st Strategic Missile Squadron. Since that time, the Minuteman III has stood continuous watch as part of the nation’s global strike force.

The Minuteman III was the first ICBM designed to carry the Multiple Independently targetable Re-entry Vehicle capability, or MIRV. This configuration allowed individual targeting upon release for each of the weapon’s three warheads.

The nation’s ICBM program dates back to 1959. The Minuteman III has stood guard more than one-third of that time when matched against the Air Force’s previous on-alert ICBM systems—Atlas, Titan I, Titan II, Minuteman I, Minuteman II, and Peacekeeper.

Despite a projected service life of 10 years, Minuteman III has served uninterrupted for 50 years, having undergone a series of life-extension programs to maintain viability. It still stands on alert while development of its successor, the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent, continues.

“Until GBSD comes online fully, we must continue to take the actions necessary to ensure Minuteman III remains a viable deterrent for the Nation,” said Gen. Tim Ray, Air Force Global Strike Command commander. “24/7/365 our missiles remain on alert, lethal and ready, providing the deterrence necessary to allow the rest of the Nation to sleep peacefully at night. We all owe a large debt of gratitude to the missileers, maintainers, security forces and countless others, who held the watch over the past generation. However, the Minuteman III is 50-years-old. It’s time to modernize and bring on the GBSD.”

“My hat’s off to the Airmen across 20th Air Force who continue to operate, maintain, secure, and support Minuteman III after 50 years of service to the nation,” said Maj. Gen. Mike Lutton, 20th Air Force commander. “This is a proud moment worth reflecting upon—especially for the world’s most respected and feared global strike team.”

Located across five states, Minot AFB, Malmstrom AFB, Montana, and F. E. Warren AFB, Wyoming, Nebraska and Colorado, Minuteman III remains the most responsive leg of the nuclear triad.

Air Force Global Strike Command is comprised of more than 33,700 Airmen and civilians assigned to two numbered air forces, 11 wings, two geographically-separated squadrons and one detachment in the continental United States, and deployed to locations around the globe. The command oversees two-thirds of the Nation’s nuclear weapons including all bomber and Intercontinental Ballistic Missile operations for the U.S. Department of Defense. More information can be found at: https://www.afgsc.af.mil/Library/Fact-Sheets/Display/Article/454593/air-force-global-strike-command-air-forces-strategic-air/