These breathtaking nighttime launches of the LGM-30G Minuteman III Intercontinental Ballistic Missile out of Vandenberg AFB give you an idea of how the beginning of the end of the world would look if mankind decided to call it a day.
The Minutemen III is the backbone of America’s land-based portion of its Nuclear Triad. Some 450 LGM-30Gs are stationed in their hardened underground silos in Montana, North Dakota and Wyoming, each capable of carrying up to three Multiple Independently Targeted Reentry Vehicles (MIRVS) and can also carry a series of decoys and radar reflective chaff to confuse enemy radars and anti-ballistic missile systems. The missile’s stated range is just over 8,000 miles, but its exact range remains classified.
Currently, the Minuteman III force “only” holds a single reentry vehicle, a result of the now defunct START II treaty. There are currently two thermonuclear warheads used with the Minuteman III inventory, the newer W87 and the older W78. These warheads have an output range of 335 to 475 kilotons of TNT equivalent.
The missile is capable of changing its trajectory during its later boost and mid-course stages of flight to further confuse anti-ballistic missile systems and compensate for the release its MIRVS or decoys. This is not the same as being equipped with hard turning maneuvering reentry vehicles like some of the world’s other nuclear powers are currently fielding.
The Minuteman III has been in service for 45 years, and while it ha received many upgrades over the years, it’s still based upon a design from the 1960s. It will remain in service until at least 2030, after which it will have to go thorough a deep upgrade, be replaced in full or the land-based contingent of America’s Nuclear Triad will have to be eliminated. This would leave air-launched and air-dropped nuclear weapons and America’s Trident ballistic missile carrying nuclear submarine force as America’s nuclear deterrent.
Considering the bad press, questionable readiness and antiquated technology that has plagued the reputation of America’s land-based nuclear missile force in recent years, and seeing how we can barely upgrade other key parts of the nuclear triad, elimination of the entire ground-based strategic missile capability is a real possibility.
You can get an idea of how the Minuteman III goes about it apocalyptic job in the video below, minus the decoys and chaff that is:
So sleep well and night knowing that 450 (soon to be 400 after the current draw-down finishes) of these chariots of destruction are sitting cocked and locked across America’s northern border, just waiting for the “red phone” to ring.
Contact the author at Tyler@jalopnik.com.