Malmstrom nuclear operations normal, Pentagon postpones ICBM test launch
This story was reported in conjunction with the Montana Free Press
Despite concerns about nuclear tensions related to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, operations of the missile silos at Malmstrom Air Force Base here remain normal, military officials said.
“There’s been no change to force protection conditions at Malmstrom AFB, and we won’t speculate on potential future adjustments,” Jennifer Greene, spokesperson for Air Force Global Strike Command, Malmstrom’s parent command, said in an email.
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The Air Force at Malmstrom maintains 150 intercontinental ballistic missile silos across its 13,800-square-mile complex in central Montana. The Air Force also operates silos at the F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming and the Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota. According to the Department of Defense, there are 450 silos in the United States with 400 missiles deployed at any time.
The Pentagon announced nearly a decade ago that it would retain all of the ICBM silos operated by the Air Force, including those at Malmstrom. The silos are armed and manned by Air Force officers at all times. About 3,300 active-duty members, as well as another 600 civilians, serve at the Malmstrom base.
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Earlier this month, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III postponed a scheduled ICBM test launch. A new date for the test hasn’t been set.
Pentagon press secretary John F. Kirby said during a press conference March 2 that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s recent threat of using nuclear weapons is “unacceptable.”
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“In an effort to demonstrate that we have no intention of engaging in any actions that can be misunderstood or misconstrued, the secretary of defense has directed that our Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile test launch scheduled for this week to be postponed,” Kirby said. “We did not take this decision lightly, but instead to demonstrate that we are a responsible nuclear power.”
The U.S. conducts four unarmed ICBM test launches each year from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
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The tests are planned years in advance and publicized “to avoid miscalculations,” according to the Pentagon. The dummy warheads land near Kwajalein Atoll in the Pacific Ocean.
GBSD missile program progressing
The Air Force is currently working to replace the Minuteman III ICBMs currently in use with the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent. In September 2020, the Air Force awarded a $13.3 billion contract to Northrop Grumman for the engineering and manufacturing development of those weapons.
The project, scheduled for completion in 2029, includes modernizing and replacing all launch facilities, communication systems, infrastructure and necessary technology to support the system, according to the Air Force. Malmstrom will be the second missile base to get the new system, after the base in Wyoming and before the one in North Dakota.