Life Extension Programs send missiles into the future

Alpha Missile Alert Facility in the 341st Space Wing's missile complex, circa 1963.  Alpha is part of the 10th Missile Squadron, brought on alert in 1961.  The Minuteman I missiles  in the 10th MS were President Kennedy's "Ace in the Hole" during the Cuban Missile Crisis

Alpha Missile Alert Facility in the 341st Space Wing's missile complex, circa 1963. Alpha is part of the 10th Missile Squadron, brought on alert in 1961. The Minuteman I missiles in the 10th MS were President Kennedy's "Ace in the Hole" during the Cuban Missile Crisis

Construction of missile complex launch facilities, or "silos," in the late 1950s.  Launch facilities would house Minuteman I missiles, geographically separated from their command and control element at flight area Missle Alert Facilities and underground launch control centers.

Construction of missile complex launch facilities, or "silos," in the late 1950s. Launch facilities would house Minuteman I missiles, geographically separated from their command and control element at flight area Missle Alert Facilities and underground launch control centers.

Senior Airman Derek Baker, 341st Missile Maintenance Squadron missile handling team technician, uses a hand-held controller to lower the 341st Missile Wing’s 150th Minuteman III solid-propellant replacement booster into launch facility Echo-08 Aug. 18. The Propulsion Replacement Program, or PRP, extends the service life of the missile through 2020. The first MMIII replacement booster was delivered in April 2001.  (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Eydie Sakura)

Senior Airman Derek Baker, 341st Missile Maintenance Squadron missile handling team technician, uses a hand-held controller to lower the 341st Missile Wing’s 150th Minuteman III solid-propellant replacement booster into launch facility Echo-08 Aug. 18. The Propulsion Replacement Program, or PRP, extends the service life of the missile through 2020. The first MMIII replacement booster was delivered in April 2001. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Eydie Sakura)

BARKSDALE AFB, La. -- Fifty years ago, the first Minuteman III Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles were deployed to the missile fields in support of the strategic deterrence mission. Five decades later, these missiles are still in place, providing safe, secure and effective strategic nuclear deterrence.

Since it first deployed, a number of state-of-the-art improvements and modernization programs have helped the Minuteman system continue its deterrence mission with improved reliability that supports the missile's remarkable 99 percent alert rate. Air Force Global Strike Command continues to modernize the weapon system through a series of extensive Minuteman III Life Extension Programs.

Nearly the entire missile has been refurbished, including the flight controls and propellant in all three stages, the guidance system and the Propulsion System Rocket Engine.

"We are checking and balancing everything, but they are basically new missiles except for the shell," Mr. Michael Knipp, ICBM Program Analyst, said. "Over the last decade we've done more than $7 billion worth of upgrades to 450 missiles."

In addition to the missile itself, a number of upgrades to the Minuteman III ground systems have been made. Those include upgrade to various electronic, cryptographic and security systems, Knipp said.

The last of the Life Extension Programs that will take the platform through the year 2020 are scheduled to be completed in 2015.