1990s: Beginning of ICBM program inspections

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  • 75th Air Force Base History Office

Editor’s note: This feature is part of a Hill Air Force Base 80th anniversary series. These articles will feature the base’s historical innovations and achievements, and will highlight mission platforms that have been operated and supported throughout the decades.

Strategic arms reduction continued as an important topic of discussion between the United States and its Cold War opponent, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, throughout the latter half of that conflict. A round of arms reduction negotiations began by U.S. President Ronald Reagan in 1982 resulted in the opposite of the desired outcome, however, and both nations increased participation in the arms race over the next several years.

By the middle of the 1980s, the USSR’s economy could not support continued defense spending and negotiations resumed. President Reagan returned to negotiations with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in October 1986. This round of negotiations led to the signing of a comprehensive strategic arms reduction treaty by U.S. President George H.W. Bush and Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev on July 31, 1991.

Called the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), it barred each of the two nations from deploying more than 6,000 nuclear warheads atop a total of 1,600 intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and bombers. The largest and most complex arms control treaty in history, its final implementation resulted in the removal of about 80 percent of all strategic nuclear weapons then in existence. The implementation of START directly impacted Hill AFB, home to the source of repair depot for all U.S. Air Force ICBMs.

Prior to its ratification by the two governments, as leaders made decisions on how to implement the treaty, 15 Soviet inspectors visited Hill AFB on November 4-5, 1991, to record technical data on Minuteman and Peacekeeper missiles. USSR leaders used this technical data to verify the descriptions of the weapons systems given to them during treaty negotiations. The “ICBM Technical Exhibition” played an important role in moving the implementation of the treaty forward because it showed that the two sides could cooperate at the tactical/technical level, a necessity for the successful implementation of the treaty. 

Preparation for the exhibition began three years prior to the Soviets’ visit, which more than 100 Hill AFB military and civilian personnel helped plan and support. Gen. Lt. Vladimir Medvedev, director of the Soviet Nuclear Risk Reduction Center and leader of the inspection team, expressed appreciation for the warm welcome his team received in 1991 and shared his optimism that the cooperation they experienced would provide a foundation for future work. Gen. Lt. Medvedev’s optimism proved true. Both governments ratified the treaty, which entered into force on December 5, 1994. It expired 15 years later, but was replaced by the New START treaty on April 8, 2010.

Hill AFB has supported these treaties for nearly three decades by hosting numerous inspection teams from the Russian Federation, making the installation unique in that it provides the sustainment support that enables the nation to confidently rely on its strategic deterrent while also supporting the treaties that help prevent its use.