Missile maintenance comes through Central Montana

By: 
JENNY GESSAMAN
Reporter

Airmen from the 341st Maintenance Group perform missile maintenance on a launch facility this April. Similar tasks are being done as part of the programmed depot maintenance.

Photo courtesy of U.S. Air Force and Staff Sgt. Delia Martinez

Small-town Central Montana, and even rural Central Montana, is pretty observant: Even something as small as a new traffic sign can generate curiosity and questions. It’s no surprise, then, that some residents have noticed changes at local Air Force installations.

According to Chief of Public Affairs Leah Bryant, they shouldn’t worry. It’s all part of the plan.

Bryant explained any new vehicles or tents at missile silos are there to help perform programmed depot maintenance. In laymen’s term, the Air Force is doing upkeep for intercontinental ballistic missiles housed in the area.

Montana houses 15 missile alert facilities responsible for 150 Minuteman III nuclear missiles. The facilities were first manned in 1962, according to a Malmstrom Air Force Base brochure. This includes the launch facilities, or areas that house the missiles, and the launch control centers, or underground areas housing manned consoles.

Both received upgrades and modifications over the years, Bryant explained, to keep them running and to match them with ever-updating military standards.

This year, however, marks the first time since their activation that they have undergone programmed depot maintenance. Bryant pointed to the upgrades, adding a 1985 Air Force program introduced periodic maintenance. In 2013, Congress voted to extend the life of the Minuteman III missile system. In turn, the Air Force decided to apply maintenance practices historically used for military aircraft to the web of missiles and supporting facilities.

This, Bryan said, meant there could be programmed depot maintenance. Another government move made the maintenance logistically possible.

In 2011, the U.S. entered the New START Treaty, which limits nuclear weapon numbers. The Treaty’s reduction of missiles on 24/7 alert gave the Air Force the window of time it needed to do its work, without affecting the nation’s combat readiness.

Bryant reported as of mid-November, 19 launch facilities and three control centers in the Malmstrom Air Force Base missile field had been maintained. She said the work includes refurbishing infrastructure, missile flight propulsion systems and some kinds of vehicles.

Completing the entire missile system is estimated to take eight years, at which point Bryant said the process would start over, cycling until the system as a whole is replaced in the mid-2030s.

She described programmed depot maintenance as “largely invisible to local residents,” but added there might be increased traffic to launch facilities and control centers. Central Montanans may also notice large tan tents. Those are meant to shelter maintenance teams as they work, Bryant said, even in severe weather.

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