AFNWC splits ICBMs in two: Center realigns to improve nuclear mission focus

  • Published
  • By Leah Bryant, AFNWC Public Affairs
  • Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center
Note: The Minuteman III Systems director position has changed from Col. Luke Cropsey to Col. Erik Quigley; Cropsey is moving to a new position at the Pentagon. (Updated 5/20/2020)

The Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center is restructuring its directorates to improve focus on providing nuclear capabilities to the warfighter.

Headquartered at Kirtland AFB, the center is responsible for synchronizing all aspects of nuclear materiel management on behalf of Air Force Materiel Command, in direct support of Air Force Global Strike Command.  It has more than 1,300 personnel assigned to 18 locations worldwide.

The center’s former Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) Systems Directorate at Hill AFB, Utah, divided into two new directorates: 1) the Minuteman III Systems Directorate and 2) the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD) Systems Directorate. 

“This restructuring is a natural progression of the Air Force’s increasing focus on the modernization of the ICBM, the third leg of our strategic nuclear triad,” said Maj. Gen. Shaun Morris, AFNWC commander and Air Force program executive officer for strategic systems.  “It also allows us to centralize some functional requirements, such as manpower and security, at a central operating location at Hill AFB, thus freeing up our subject matter experts to better focus on both sustaining the Minuteman III and acquiring the new GBSD weapon system.”

This transition should appear seamless to AFNWC’s workforce and customers, Morris said.

“Safeguarding our nation and protecting our allies from a nuclear attack will continue to be of upmost importance,” he added.

The new Minuteman III Systems Directorate will be led by Col. Luke Cropsey, who is currently the ICBM Systems director. [See Note above.]

“The ICBM is the most responsive leg of the nuclear triad,” Cropsey said.  “We also anchor the other two legs of the nuclear triad by dispersing over 500 hardened aimpoints spread across multiple states that an adversary would have to attack simultaneously, creating an extraordinarily high threshold for a large-scale conventional or nuclear attack in the U.S. homeland. 

“Minuteman III is celebrating 50 years of continuous 24/7 on-alert duty this year.  The dedication and grit of our workforce is the lynch pin in sustaining the Minuteman III and ensuring the weapon system remains operational through the deployment of GBSD.  The handoff between Minuteman III and GBSD is the most complex ever undertaken between two nuclear weapon systems.

“The operational credibility of the Minuteman III remains rock solid despite its age, and operational testing continues to underscore our motto of ‘never doubted, always feared.’  This testing also provides valuable data on systems and procedures, and AFNWC Airmen support these tests, from the initial mission planning to the final launch.”

The new GBSD Systems Directorate will be led by Col. Jason Bartolomei, who is currently the system program manager for GBSD and will remain dual-hatted in that role.
“GBSD will ensure uninterrupted deterrence against current and future adversaries through 2075. At the same time, it will provide more efficient operations, maintenance and security by modernizing a critically-aged infrastructure and lowering lifecycle costs,” Bartolomei said.

“GBSD is the most cost-effective option for maintaining a safe, secure and effective ICBM leg of the nuclear triad. It will exploit existing, affordable technologies.

“Since Minuteman III was developed in the mid-1960s, many advances have been made in missile propulsion, guidance precision instruments, safety, security, nuclear surety, and nuclear command, control, and communications that will keep our land-based leg of the triad safe, secure, and effective for decades to come.

“The GBSD weapon system will have increased accuracy, extended range, and enhanced security, which will ensure that it is responsive to the emerging threat environment and unforeseen contingencies.”

Over the past six years, the GBSD program has been recognized as one of the Air Force’s most innovative acquisition organizations and a national leader in digital engineering and software engineering.

“The men and women of the newly formed GBSD Systems Directorate have been bringing the future faster for our Air Force for several years.  In our business, there is not a more exciting place to be than here at Hill AFB working in the ICBM enterprise,” Bartolomei said.

The rest of the center’s organizational structure remains unchanged.  The other AFNWC major execution directorates are the Air Delivered Capabilities Directorate, Kirtland AFB; the Nuclear Command, Control and Communications Integration Directorate, Hanscom AFB, Massachusetts; and the Nuclear Technology and Integration Directorate, Kirtland AFB.  In addition, there are several functional directorates at Kirtland AFB.

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