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Air Force Nearly Done Studying Nuclear-Missile Fleet Options

A Minuteman 3 intercontinental ballistic missile is launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The service expects to shortly wrap up a study of alternatives for maintaining a future ground-based strategic missile capability. A Minuteman 3 intercontinental ballistic missile is launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The service expects to shortly wrap up a study of alternatives for maintaining a future ground-based strategic missile capability. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The Air Force expects by the end of June to complete a study of options for maintaining a future ground-based strategic missile capability.

The "analysis of alternatives" for maintaining an intercontinental ballistic missile force will focus on modularity and cost-effectiveness, Brig. Gen. Fred Stoss, who manages weapons requirements for the Air Force's Global Strike Command, said in a recent interview with Air Force Magazine.

The nation's stockpile of approximately 450 Minuteman 3 ICBMs, which is managed and operated by Global Strike Command, has been deployed since the 1970s. Under the New START accord with Russia, the Pentagon has outlined a plan to by 2018 remove 54 of the missiles from their silos and place them in reserve.

Stoss emphasized that a future "ground-based strategic deterrent" would not be a follow-on to the Minuteman 3. "GBSD is not just a missile," the one-star general said.

All of the weapon's components are being examined with an eye toward determining which parts need to be updated, which need to be replaced, and which can still be useful past the Minuteman 3's shelf life. "We have to make sure we buy the most economical and enduring option" for each component of the missile, he said. "We must look at this holistically."

Meanwhile, experts are divided on whether reforms recently unveiled by the Air Force to boost morale and performance among its nuclear missileer corps will succeed. Those reforms include requesting that the head of Global Strike Command be elevated from a three-star to a four-star position, and expanding the command by 1,100 people.

The reforms follow a number of scandals in the strategic missile workforce that exposed a pervasive test-cheating culture at a base in Montana, allegations of drug possession by some launch-control officers, and problems securing a "stolen" nuclear weapon during a 2013 training scenario.

Former Air Force missileer Brian Weeden told Stars and Stripes he views the suggested reforms as "mostly symbolic."

"There are already plenty of three-stars and four-stars around, and creating a couple of new ones to represent the missileers is not going to have that big of an impact," he said.

However, Dana Struckman, a former Minuteman 3 squadron head, told the Associated Press he views the reforms as "a step in the right direction. ... I think it will make a difference."

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