START I Impact

START I called on the United States and the former Soviet republics to reduce their nuclear arsenals to 6,000 warheads and limit their launch platforms, including ICBMs, SLBMs, and long-range bombers, to 1,600. The terms of the treaty gave both sides considerable flexibility in removing the launchers from service. Despite the upheavals in the former Soviet Union after the July 1991 signing, both sides began implementing the accord.

On September 27, 1991, President Bush appeared on national television to announce a series of steps designed to reduce Cold War-era nuclear tensions. His first step was to order the Air Force to take all of its 450 Minuteman II ICBMs off operational alert. Within 72 hours of the President's order, the missiles at Whiteman, Ellsworth, and Malmstrom Air Force Bases were taken off alert status for the first time in over 20 years.

Because Whiteman and Ellsworth Air Force Bases hosted only Minuteman II missiles, the presidential order truly marked the end of the missile era. Soon Air Force crews began stripping the missiles of their warheads and guidance systems, and later removed the missiles from their silos. Over the next 3 years demolition crews began the difficult task of destroying the Minuteman silos and launch control facilities. To raze the silos, contractors first demolished the headframes and then filled the empty tubes with rubble. Afterwards, the construction crews spread topsoil over the site and seeded the area. The launch control centers received a slightly different treatment. Contractors buried the accessways under yards of rubble and covered the site with a thick concrete cap.

For Malmstrom Air Force Base, the missile era was not yet over. The Montana base had its 150 Minuteman II silos taken off alert status, but during 1993 and 1994, 30 of these silos were backfitted with Minuteman III missiles to join an additional 50 silos that had been built for the newer missiles in the late 1960s.

Along with the 50 silos at Malmstrom that remained unaffected by President Bush's September 27, 1991, order, 450 Minuteman III silos at other sites remained on alert status, split evenly between Minot, Grand Forks, and F.E. Warren Air Force Bases. In addition, F.E. Warren continued to operate 50 Peacekeeper ICBMS.