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Minuteman ICBMs Upgraded as Peacekeepers Get Mothballed

Minuteman ICBMs Upgraded as Peacekeepers Get Mothballed

By Gerry J. Gilmore, American Forces Press Service.

Washington D.C. -- (AFPN) March 30, 2004 -- The U.S. military will upgrade its Minuteman III ICBMs while retiring its Peacekeeper missile force, a senior officer told a Senate subcommittee March 25.

The larger, multinuclear-warhead-carrying Peacekeeper ICBMs are being decommissioned as the first step in reducing operationally deployed warheads to a level of 1700 to 2200 over the next decade -- levels announced by President George W. Bush on Nov. 13, 2001. The Nuclear Posture Review released in 2002, which analyzed nuclear-force structure, also projected the deactivation of the Peacekeeper ICBM.

"With Peacekeeper deactivation proceeding as planned, the Air Force has implemented an aggressive life-extension program for the Minuteman III ICBM force to ensure weapon-system reliability through 2020," said Navy Adm. James O. Ellis Jr. to members of the subcommittee on senate strategic forces.

Admiral Ellis heads the U.S. Strategic Command at Offutt Air Force Base, Neb., which oversees U.S. military global-strategic planning, including nuclear deterrence.

“Reliability upgrades" would be performed on the Minuteman III's critical components, Admiral Ellis said. These include replacement of the missile's guidance and propulsion systems, he said.

First deployed in 1986, the Peacekeeper is a four-stage rocket system designed to carry 10 nuclear warheads, according to a U.S. STRATCOM fact sheet. Deactivation began in October 2002, and there are now about 23 Peacekeepers on alert.

The Minuteman, a smaller, three-stage rocket system, has undergone numerous improvements since it was first deployed in the early 1960s, STRATCOM officials said. The Minuteman III version, deployed in 1970, was designed to carry three nuclear warheads, according to an Air Force fact sheet, but a 1992 arms treaty reduced its payload to one warhead.

About 500 Minuteman IIIs are in the U.S. nuclear arsenal, according to STRATCOM officials. The Minuteman III will become America's sole land-based nuclear-warhead carrying ICBM system after the Peacekeeper is retired, Admiral Ellis said.

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Directeur de la publication : Joël-François Dumont
Comité de rédaction : Jacques de Lestapis, Hugues Dumont, François de Vries (Bruxelles), Hans-Ulrich Helfer (Suisse), Michael Hellerforth (Allemagne).
Comité militaire : VAE Guy Labouérie (†), GAA François Mermet (2S), CF Patrice Théry (Asie).