50th Anniversary: First Minuteman III placed on alert at Minot

  • Published
  • By Robert B. Cuthbertson, Jr., Minuteman III System Program Office
  • Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center
On Aug. 19, 1970, the very first Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile, known as ICBM, was placed on alert status at the 741st Strategic Missile Squadron, Minot AFB, North Dakota. The missile was emplaced in Launch Facility Hotel-02, just two months prior to its launch.

The ICBMs got their start in 1951 with Project Atlas which were later replaced with the Titan I and II missiles. The Minuteman missile development began in 1962 as a replacement to the Titan missile. The Minuteman missile was the first solid-fueled ICBM ever deployed and this technology brought about a revolution in missile development.

Throughout history there have been four versions of the Minuteman, the IA, IB, II and III. The Multiple Independently targeted Reentry Vehicle (MIRV) Minuteman III missile replaced the single-warhead Minuteman I and II models across six bases in the heart of our nation’s homeland. This transition started at Minot AFB in 1970 where the older missiles were taken out of the silos as part of a larger modification program to convert the 91st Strategic Missile Wing to the first Minuteman III wing in the nation.

The new Minuteman III represented the ultimate ICBM capability available in the field of ballistic war missiles at the time. The Minot Daily News described the Minuteman III as, “standing 59 feet and 3 inches in height, weighs 76,000 pounds and can travel at a speed in excess of 15,000 miles per hour. Should the ‘balloon go up’ and the nation be forced to defend itself in an all-out nuclear conflict, the buried Minot missiles could be unleashed and be on their way to targets within a half-minute interval.”

The Minuteman III ICBM still stands as the backbone of our nation’s nuclear deterrence. These missiles are the most responsive leg of the nuclear triad, always ready and can be launched within minutes.

When it was deployed in 1970 it only had a planned ten-year service life, but through a series of much needed life extension programs, the Minuteman III has remained viable for fifty years and is expected to remain in service until the 2030s, when it will be replaced by the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent weapon system currently under
development at Hill AFB. This makes the Minuteman III the oldest deployed strategic ballistic missile in the world.

The Minuteman weapon system is operated by and under the control of Air Force Global Strike Command, but is supported by the Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center's Minuteman III System Program Office and the AIr Force Sustainment Center's 309th Missile Maintenance Group and 748th Supply Chain Management Group at Hill AFB.

Here is a list of significant Minuteman III events that took place fifty years ago:
Date                       Historical Significance
Jan. 12, 1970 91st Strategic Missile Wing at Minot AFB, North Dakota, began converting its ICBM facilities from Minuteman I to Minuteman III. 
March 3, 1970 First operational Minuteman III was completed at Air Force Plant 77, Ogden, Utah.
April 14, 1970 First Minuteman III missile accepted by the 91st Strategic Missile Wing.
April 17, 1970 First Minuteman III missile emplaced in Silo LF H-02 at 741st Strategic Missile Squadron at Minot AFB.
Aug. 19, 1970 First Minuteman III placed on alert status at 741st Strategic Missile Squadron. 
Sept. 16, 1970 Successful Minuteman III launch from Cape Kennedy, Florida, as part of the Special Test Missile Project, a post-research and development (R&D) effort to evaluate the Minuteman III’s performance and accuracy.
Dec, 2, 1970 Successful Minuteman III launch from Cape Kennedy as part of the Special Test Missile Project.
Dec. 14, 1970 Last unarmed Minuteman III, now named "LGM-30G," was launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida (formerly Cape Kennedy).
Dec. 29, 1970 741st Strategic Missile Squadron became the first operational Minuteman III squadron.
Dec. 31, 1970 Force modernization and emplacement completed at Minot AFB. 

More: AFNWC celebrates 50 years of Minuteman III grit

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