MINOT AIR FORCE BASE More manpower, new vehicles for the missile field, new uniforms for security forces, and improvements in training and evaluation in the intercontinental ballistic missile operation business are part of changes for Minot Air Force Base's Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile mission.
The two other missile bases, F.E. Warren AFB at Cheyenne, Wyo., and Malmstrom AFB at Great Falls, Mont., will benefit similarily from the recently launched Force Improvement Program to strengthen the Air Force's nuclear mission.
As part of the program, Maj. Gen. Jack Weinstein, commander of 20th Air Force, with headquarters at F.E. Warren AFB, said at a news conference at Minot AFB on Wednesday that 20th Air Force will be getting about 741 more people for the ICBM mission at the three bases, including for operations, helicopter pilots, security forces and missile maintenance. The breakdown of specifically how many people will be added to Minot AFB's missile wing was not immediately available.
Launch control centers, like this one in the Max area in the Minot missile field shown in this photo taken Wednesday, will be getting upgrades as part of the Air Force’s Force Improvement Program for the nation’s nuclear mission. Launch control centers remotely command and control a specified number of Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles.
Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., who recently met with Lt. Gen. Stephen Wilson, commander of Air Force Global Strike Command, said possibly several hundred people will be stationed at Minot AFB, home to both the 91st Missile Wing and the 5th Bomb Wing, a unit with B-52 bombers.
Millions of dollars are being pumped into 20th Air Force for the Force Improvement Program, according to Weinstein.
"The Secretary of the Air Force has given us all the money that we can spend properly," he said. Because they want to be good stewards to the American taxpayer, he said the money is going for launch control center upgrades, new water towers, and supplies and equipment for missile maintenance.
"Minot Air Force Base is going to benefit from a lot of areas," Weinstein said. He said they're going to be getting new new vehicles for security, operations and maintenance.
Overall for the missile bases, $6 million worth of new vehicles are being purchased because the current vehicles in the missile field have high mileage. "We need to provide people a safe and secure way to get out to the missile fields," Weinstein said.
"We're working on new uniforms for security forces. We want to put them in the uniform called the Multi-cam. The multi-cam uniform is better for the environment. It also comes in several layers so whether it's a beautiful 90 degrees in the summer in Minot or minus 42 in the winter, the uniform will be able to protect our airmen," Weinstein said.
He said they're also reorganizing operations, including changing the way they do training and evaluation. Minot AFB will be the first base to start that reorganization on July 1.
As soon as Aug. 1, the helicopter squadrons at the three missile bases will be realigned. Currently, they are a unit of each missile wing.
Contracts are being awarded for "deep cleaning" the launch control centers, Weinstein said. He said the launch control centers have been in operation since the 1960s. "You need to properly take care of them so the people that are performing alerts are in a professional environment," he said.
Weinstein visited the Minot base and missile field this week to talk to airmen who work in the 91st Missile Wing. He also was at the Minot base for the change-of-command ceremony on Tuesday when Col. Michael Lutton took over the missile wing command from Col. Robert Vercher who has a new assignment at U.S. Strategic Command at Omaha, Neb.
At the news conference, Weinstein said he had just visited Juliet-01, a launch control center in the Minot missile field.
"It just went through close to a refurbishment as we've done in a very long time and that launch control center was just absolutely fantastic. The team here at Minot both on the contractors side that works for the 309th Maintenance Group at Hill as well as the 91st Missile Wing have taken a launch control center, done great on corrosion work, there's new paint down there and when you walk in there it smells like a new car and that's what our people deserve," Weinstein said.
There are 150 Minuteman III ICBMs in the Minot missile field, an area covering several counties. Launch control centers in the missile field remotely command and control a specified number of the missiles.
Weinstein said airmen made the recommendations for the improvements that are being done.
"The airmen that we talked to that really facilitated this gave us great ideas so we're pressing forward on over 350 recommendations," he said.
The Force Improvement Program has moved ahead at a fast pace and Weinstein said he believes the reason it has moved so quickly is the relook at the ICBM business was from a completely different vantage point.
"The previous studies that have been done have been at the senior level and we received reports from senior people that said this is what needs to happen," he said. He said this time they went to their most important resource the young airmen. He said five different groups of them gave recommendations: security forces, operations, maintenance, support and helicopter operations.
"We got all those recommendations at a lower level. It was myself and my boss, Lt. Gen. Wilson, that looked at all the recommendations. We only said no to seven and then we put it on a rapid pace," Weinstein said.
Weinstein said he thinks it's important to move forward, acknowledging there are items that have happened in the past.
"I'm proud of our United States Air Force that when we had a problem we were 100 percent transparent of what the problem was, we identified what we were going to do to get better and then we moved forward. When we do that we're able to look in the mirror and say, 'you know what, we can get better.' " And that's what we did. And now we're taking extremely aggresive action in order to build a new ICBM force."
"We've always been safe, secure and effective but like in any operation, we can do things better. And for me it's an exciting time because the airmen can actually see change happening before their eyes," he said.
"To me, this is the best time to be in the ICBM force. The mission is as important as ever, the people are extremely committed and now we're giving them the resources and the training that they need to be completely successful," Weinstein said.
Weinstein said the Force Improvement Program is not a one-time deal but a a full-time effort to continue for a very long time.
"This is not a short-term fix. We've been operating the ICBM business a certain way for the last 50 years and what we're doing is we're changing the culture. Changing the culture takes time but I look at the Force Improvement Program as more of a long-term way that we're improving the operation and what we'll continue to do is look at what we've done, we've implemented changes, evaluate what we've done, realize where we need to change and move forward," Weinstein said.