Switch to Sky: The 91 MW SELM Test

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Josh W. Strickland
  • Minot Air Force Base Public Affairs

            Anticipation was in the air on April 7, 2021 at launch facility Golf 8 where a crowd gathered around the fence to witness a Simulated Electronic Launch-Minuteman test at Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota.

            Performed every two years, the SELM is an end-to-end test to verify the reliability of the Minuteman III Intercontinental Ballistic Missile system, which includes the opening of the launcher closure door that would slide open before a missile is launched. A team consisting of multiple squadrons and groups from Minot and additional support from the 576th Flight Test Squadron from Vandenberg AFB, California made the GIANT PACE 21-1 M SELM possible.

                        The SELM is a comprehensive test conducted on six launch facilities and two launch control facilities to provide necessary information about the reliability of cable, communication devices and mechanical instruments involved in the missile launch order communication process. The test also gauges and assures the reliability of the Airborne Launch Control System in its deployed environment.

            More than 1,500 hours are committed to plan, prepare and execute the test during the seven month time span. The ICBM maintenance and operation crews remove and replace operational panels with test panels and isolate the launch facilities from the rest of the operational squadron to form a “mini squadron.” This allows the test to be conducted without affecting or reaching an operational missile site while the missile combat crew members use real commands. The test exercises ground and airborne elements of the weapon system from launch command execution up to but not including first stage ignition.

            “During the SELM, we test everything but the actual flight of the missile,” said 1st Lt. Bobby Sarpong, 741st Missile Squadron missile combat crew commander. “All the configurations are changed to capture information that lets us know the systems are working properly and would fire the missile in a real-world key turn”. 

The nation’s nuclear deterrence rests on a triad made up of nuclear submarines, bombers and ICBMs; two of which belong to Air Force Global Strike Command and are housed at Minot AFB.

The ICBM leg of the triad here is operated by the 91st Missile Wing and its groups and squadrons. One of those squadrons is the 741st Missile Squadron. This squadron’s Airmen were the ones to man the launch control center for this year’s SELM. Turning the keys to simulate the launch was 2nd Lt. William Young, 741st MS missile combat crew commander and 1st Lt. Darian Titus, 741st MS deputy missile combat crew commander, assisted and guided by Capt. James Kelley of the 576th Flight Test Squadron. LCC crews are officers who perform around-the-clock alerts in conjunction with support from security forces and force support Airmen who work in the missile alert facility above.

            "The 576th Flight Test Squadron SELM team manages the execution of the test mission but the squadrons and missile wing make SELM a true success," said SELM Test Manager Capt Kirsten McKenzie of the 576th Flight Test Squadron.  "SELM is a monumental test mission, and Minot personnel invest thousands of hours on top of the operational mission to showcase they are combat ready."

            These complex weapons systems would not be effective without the motivated, highly-trained and knowledgeable Airmen who work every day of the year to keep them on alert and standing guard over the nation’s borders. The combat capability provided by these Airmen assures the United States’ allies by deterring potential threats and keeping America poised for peace.  

            “The SELM is a significant event because it shows that everything, all the manpower, planning, and execution of the processes, plus all the components of the missile site, work as they should up to the point of the launch of a missile” said MSgt Donald Nelson, NCOIC of the SELM. “They also test the launch of the missile in Vandenberg, so when you piece them together it shows our adversaries that from start to finish our missiles, personnel and sites are capable and ready at a moment’s notice”.

            One of the most important abilities of any weapons system is the ability to live fire test its functionality. For obvious reasons, the ICBM leg does not readily have that ability which makes the SELM test so important, strategically. Mission success depends ultimately on the ability of the Air Force to provide a tangible demonstration of combat capability to adversaries and allies alike in order to keep the United States safe.