Wednesday, January 14, 2015

History of Bates County Series: Hidden in Plain Sight

This is part Two of the History of Bates County Series featuring information about the legacy of the Minuteman missile program that lived in our rural areas for some 30+ years

Two houses in Bates County are identical ranch style, with asphalt shingles and lap siding. Add an 8 foot chain link fence, some antennas in the yard and most notably, all vehicles parked there were dark blue.

Ok, they look like houses but there's obviously more here than meets the eye, guards and all.

The two properties in question lie in opposite quadrants of Bates County. One, about 6 miles west and slightly north of Passaic; the other, a few miles southwest of the Hudson school off of 52 highway. Both are known as Launch Control Facilities (LCF's) each responsible for a 'flight' of 10 Minuteman missiles scattered around the area. Albeit, missiles armed with up to three 500 kiloton nuclear warheads.

Those three warheads were about 60 times more powerful than either bomb dropped on Japan in 1945. Now multiply by 20 missiles in Bates County alone and you'll get a real perspective on the earth toasting Armageddon that lived in our back yards.

Obviously designed to 'blend in', the two structures were part of the Whiteman AFB
509th and 510th Missile Squadrons activated in 1962, now decommissioned. All said, in the Whiteman area alone, there were 10 LCF's which were in control of 100 Minuteman missiles in western Missouri.
Topside, the building provided living quarters for about 10 people- guards, missile operators (missileers), maintenance workers, a cook and others. 

Underneath, things got serious. An elevator lead to a pod, some 50 feet or so beneath the surface where two missileers spent their time in shifts, with their sole job to be launch missiles if the call came.

Fortunately, the call never came. In the roughly 3 decades of service, there were two known instances where it came "within minutes" of happening. Thank God it didn't.

A call to launch, a very complex procedure, would have meant "missiles away" within a minute or two. While the exact protocol behind a launch is still classified, it is known that dates were tied to specific launch codes. Through human intervention and at least two computers (one in the LCF and one in each missile silo) the code would be checked and double checked for validity.
Inside the control pod some 50 feet below the surface

Note that a single LCF could not launch missiles on their own- it took a combined, redundant effort by two LCF's to fly a single missile. This would be a flurry of activity, which again, would happen in a very short period of time:

1. LCF's receive launch code.
2. Code is verified by date. 
3. A second code is sent with a reminder "This Is Not A Test".
4. Missileers use individual keys to open a lockbox that contains additional codes and a set of launch keys.
5. Codes again verified. Keys are inserted into the console by each of the missileers. The launch keys must be turned within a quarter second of each other for activation. The distance between keys is so that one person would not be able to turn both keys quickly enough for a launch, insuring that two people were involved and had properly verified everything.
6. The launch command would be sent by underground cable from the LCF to the unmanned silos. In later years, the ability was added to launch from aircraft in the event the LCF was destroyed.
7. The computer located in the silo again verified launch code against date and possibly some other criteria.
8. The 8,000 pound silo door would be blasted open, exposing the missile.

The following sequence outlines the missile's trip to its final destination:
1. The missile launches out of its silo by firing its 1st-stage boost motor (A).
2. About 60 seconds after launch, the 1st stage drops off and the 2nd-stage motor (B) ignites. The missile shroud (E) is ejected.
3. About 120 seconds after launch, the 3rd-stage motor (C) ignites and separates from the 2nd stage.
4. About 180 seconds after launch, 3rd-stage thrust terminates and the Post-Boost Vehicle (D) separates from the rocket.
5. The Post-Boost Vehicle maneuvers itself and prepares for re-entry vehicle (RV) deployment.
6. The RVs, as well as decoys and chaff, are deployed during backaway.
7. The RVs and chaff re-enter the atmosphere at high speeds (up to 15,000 mph) and are armed in flight.
8. The nuclear warheads initiate, either as air bursts or ground bursts.

That's one missile. From a "go" to an intended target halfway around the world in less than 30 minutes. Sent with condolences from Bates County, Missouri.

One has to wonder how many Soviet missiles had us in their crosshairs? The locations of silos was no secret, regardless of how well they might be disguised. 

At the peak of the Cold War we had a stockpile of just over 30,000 nuclear warheads, while Russia (Soviet Union) had closer to 40,000. During the mid-1980s, the U.S-Soviet relations significantly improved, Mikhail Gorbachev assumed control of the Soviet Union after the deaths of several former Soviet leaders, and announced a new era of perestroika and glasnost, meaning restructuring and openness respectively. Gorbachev proposed a 50% reduction of nuclear weapons for both the U.S and Soviet Union at the meeting in Reykjavik, Iceland in October 1986. However, the proposal was refused due to disagreements over Reagan's SDI. Instead, the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty was signed on December 8, 1987 in Washington, which eliminated an entire class of nuclear weapons.

In the late 1980s, after the signing of this treaty, much of the Soviet Union began to declare independence and slowly became free of Soviet influence. One of the most iconic events of the collapse of the Soviet Union was the destruction of the Berlin Wall on November 10, 1989. On December 8, 1991, the Soviet Union dissolved and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) was established. This event marked the end of the 45 year long Cold War.

Hence, the Minuteman missiles were removed, silos imploded with dynamite, filled with rock, landscaped and the properties were then sold to adjacent landowners. The two Bates County LCF's were decommissioned by removing equipment and filling the elevator shaft and underground pods with concrete. 

Watch video of a Minuteman launch here

Video of launch sequence here

In our upcoming segment, we'll cover a tragedy involving Air Force personnel who were working in conjunction with our local Minuteman program.

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