50th Anniversary: First Minuteman III squadron starts operations

  • Published
  • By Robert B. Cuthbertson, Jr., Minuteman III System Program Office
  • Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center
As testing of the Minuteman III missile at the Eastern Test Range halted, another milestone in the missile’s illustrious history was achieved 2,100 miles northwest.

Originally built in the mid-1950s to host Air Defense Command's fighter aircraft, Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota, was transformed under the Strategic Air Command (SAC) during activation of Minuteman I-B missile launchers. Nestled in the northern half of North Dakota, the Corps of Engineers Ballistic Missile Construction Office presided over the construction of the 150 silos and 10 launch complexes (eventually expanded to 15 launch control facilities) across 12,000 square miles.

On Dec. 29, 1970, the 741st Strategic Missile Squadron, under the 91st Strategic Missile Wing, became the first SAC Minuteman III squadron to obtain full operational status. This historic event came eight months after the first emplacement of the Minuteman III missile at Minot, and just four short months after the first missile was placed on alert within the squadron. The entire wing would complete the transition to Minuteman III missiles within the next year.

Many moving targets were being acquired at Minot during the 1970s. One of those targets was to modernize the third leg of the nuclear triad with advanced intercontinental ballistic missiles, tripling the striking power and credibility of the U.S. deterrent force. By the end of 1970, force modernization and emplacement of Minuteman III missiles were completed at Minot. This marked the unofficial turnover of the first complete Minuteman III squadron to the Strategic Air Command, with the formal turnover taking place on Jan. 8, 1971.

The 741st Strategic Missile Squadron, nicknamed the "Gravel Haulers," has a lineage dating back to World War II. They are the second of three squadrons to include the 740th and 742nd Missile Squadrons. These squadrons include missile crewmembers who, when on alert, are responsible for day-to-day operations, maintenance and security of the missiles within their control and are prepared to launch their missiles at all times. 

Today, the Minuteman III weapon system continues to be operated by and under the control of Air Force Global Strike Command. The weapon system 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, which are all at Hill AFB.

Here is a list of significant Minuteman III events that took place in 1970:
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 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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