The DEFCON Warning System™

Ongoing GeoIntel and Analysis in the theater of nuclear war.  DEFCON Level assessment issued for public notification.  Established 1984.

Who Would Take the Brunt of an Attack on U.S. Nuclear Missile Silos?

Last March the U.S. Air Force released a two-volume, 3,000-plus-page report detailing the environmental impact of its plans to replace all 400 “Minuteman” land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) with new “Sentinel” missiles by the mid-2030s. The program is part of a $1.5-trillion effort to modernize the U.S. nuclear arsenal and its command-and-control infrastructure. The report, required by the National Environmental Policy Act of 1970, covers the “potential effects on the human and natural environments from deployment of the Sentinel system” and from, among other things, the refurbishing of existing missile silos and the construction of new utility corridors and communications towers. But it doesn’t mention the most significant risks to surrounding communities—namely, what happens if these missiles, which are intended to serve as targets for enemy nuclear weapons, are ever attacked.

The original purpose of the land-based missile system was to deter an enemy nuclear attack by threatening prompt and devastating retaliation, but a key argument for the continued existence—and now the replenishment—of the land-based missiles is to provide a large number of fixed targets meant to exhaust the enemy’s resources. Since 1962, when the first ICBMs were installed in the U.S. heartland, competition from other legs of the nuclear triad has forced the rationale for land-based weapons to evolve. By the 1970s, when the U.S. Navy deployed long-range submarine-launched ballistic missiles, the air force had placed 1,000 Minutemen in silos across seven states. As missile-guidance systems improved, it soon became clear that the land-based weapons were vulnerable to attack because of their fixed locations, whereas the stealthy sea-based weapons were much better protected.

The air force used the vulnerability of the land-based missiles to argue for their necessity. In 1978 General Lew Allen, Jr., then air force chief of staff, proposed that the silos offered “a great sponge” of targets in the U.S. to “absorb” incoming Soviet nuclear weapons. Destroying the missile fields would require such a massive attack that adversaries couldn’t manage it or even contemplate it. Absent the land-based missiles, the argument goes, an adversary would have far more resources available to seek out and attack other U.S. military and infrastructure targets or even cities.

Read more at Scientific American

Ongoing Geointel and Analysis in the theater of nuclear war.

© 2024 The DEFCON Warning System. Established 1984.

The DEFCON Warning System is a private intelligence organization which has monitored and assessed nuclear threats by national entities since 1984. It is not affiliated with any government agency and does not represent the alert status of any military branch. The public should make their own evaluations and not rely on the DEFCON Warning System for any strategic planning. At all times, citizens are urged to learn what steps to take in the event of a nuclear attack.