The eruption of the Cold War as a result of the Berlin Blockade produced sweeping changes in the United States' military establishment and society at large. For more than 40 years the nation prepared to fight a war that never came.
The development of Intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) technology as an outgrowth of the World War II V-2 rocket technology developed by Germany, and the mating of Nuclear weapon technology developed by the United States created an entire new method of warfare. Due to their great range and firepower, in an all-out nuclear war, land-based ICBMs would carry most of the destructive force, with long-range, nuclear-armed bombers and Submarine-launched ballistic missiles having the remainder. These three components were collectivity referred to as the United States Nuclear triad.
The United States Air Force Strategic Air Command (SAC) was the United States military command and control organization for two of the components of the triad during the Cold War, ICBMs and nuclear-armed bombers. Over a million men and women served in SAC, its forces on alert 24 hours a day, every day, with a mission to preserve the peace and deter any aggressor nation from attacking the United States and its allies.
This is a list of the three generations of ICBMs produced and operationally deployed by the United States during the Cold War, with a fourth generation ICBM being deployed in small numbers at the generally agreed end of the Cold War in 1991.
Note: The PGM-17 Thor and PGM-19 Jupiter Medium-range ballistic missiles (MRBM), or the SM-62 Snark intercontinental cruise missile developed by the United States Air Force in the 1950s are not included on this list.
The First Generation SM-65 Atlas, first flown in 1957, was the United States' first successful ICBM. It was taken out of active service in 1965. Strategic Air Command deployed Atlas models D, E, and F.
As an emergency measure, in September 1959 the Air Force deployed three SM-65D Atlas missiles on open launch pads at Vandenberg AFB, California, under the operational control of the 576th Strategic Missile Squadron, 704th Strategic Missile Wing. Completely exposed to the elements, the three missiles were serviced by a gantry crane. One missile was on operational alert at all times. They remained on alert until 1 May 1964
Operational SM-65D Atlas missiles were deployed to the following units:
- Francis E. Warren AFB, Wyoming (2 September 1960-1 Jul 1964)
- 564th Strategic Missile Squadron (6 missiles)
- 565th Strategic Missile Squadron (9 missiles)
Operational SM-65E Atlas missiles were deployed to the following units:
- Fairchild Air Force Base, Washington (28 September 1961-17 February 1965)
- 567th Strategic Missile Squadron, (9 missiles)
- Francis E. Warren AFB, Wyoming (20 November 1961-4 January 1965)
- 566th Strategic Missile Squadron (9 missiles)
Operational SM-65F Atlas missiles were deployed to the following units:
A modified version of the Atlas-D (Atlas LV-3B) was used in the NASA Project Mercury program and successfully launched four astronauts into space (1962–1963). A variant was also used in the Project Gemini program (1966)
The First Generation HGM-25A Titan I, first flown in 1959, the United States' first true multistage ICBM. It was taken out of active service in 1965.
The Second Generation LGM-25C Titan II, first flown in 1961, was the successor to the Titan I, and carried a payload twice as heavy. It also used sortable propellants, which reduced the time to launch and permitted it to be launched from its silo. Titan II carried the largest single warhead of any American ICBM to date. It was taken out of active service in 1987.
The Third Generation LGM-30 Minuteman, first flown in 1961 was developed to replace the hazards inherent in the caustic, volatile liquid-fuel systems of the Atlas and Titan ICBMS. It took 15 minutes to pump 249,000 pounds of propellant aboard the "quick firing" Atlas F. It was dangerous work. Four Atlas silos were destroyed when propellant-loading exercises went awry. Two Titan I silos also met a similar fate. The Minuteman had two innovations that gave it a long practical service life: a solid rocket booster, and a digital flight computer. This computer was one of the very first recognizably modern embedded systems. The solid rocket booster made the Minuteman faster to launch than other ICBMs, which used liquid fuels.
- 532d Training Squadron - Vandenberg AFB, California (Missile Maintenance: "the most important piece of the pie")
- 392d Training Squadron - Vandenberg AFB, California (Missile Initial Qualification Course)
- 328th Weapons Squadron - Nellis AFB, Nevada (ICBM Weapons Instructor Course)
- 526th ICBM Systems Wing — Hill Air Force Base, Utah
- 576th Flight Test Squadron — Vandenberg Air Force Base, California — "Top Hand"
- 625th Strategic Operations Squadron - Offutt AFB, Nebraska - Strategic Nuclear Targeting
Today, all United States ICBMs are LGM-30G Minuteman IIIs. The Air Force planned to keep the missile in service until 2020, but it may be upgraded to stay in service until 2030.
The fourth-generation LGM-118 Peacekeeper initially known as the "MX missile" (for Missile-eXperimental), was a land-based ICBM deployed by the United States starting in 1986. A total of 50 missiles were deployed. They were withdrawn from operational service in the early 2000s (decade), the last taken offline in 2005, primarily for budetary reasons. Armed with up to 10 re-entry vehicles each carrying a W-87 thermonuclear warhead, the Peacekeeper was the most powerful ICBM deployed by the United States.
- Mauer, Mauer (1969), Combat Squadrons of the Air Force, World War II, Air Force Historical Studies Office, Maxwell AFB, Alabama. ISBN 0-89201-097-5 (Squadron Lookups)
- Mueller, Robert, Air Force Bases Volume I, Active Air Force Bases Within the United States of America on 17 September 1982, Office of Air Force History, 1989 (McConnell AFB section)
- Ravenstein, Charles A. Air Force Combat Wings Lineage and Honors Histories, 1947–1977. Maxwell AFB, Alabama: Office of Air Force History, 1984. ISBN 0-912799-12-9. (Wing Lookups)
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