Air Force Bases

Minuteman Missile Site Configuration

A representative example of the many Minuteman launch control facilities (LCF) built during the 1960s is the D-l LCF belonging to Delta Flight of the 66th Strategic Missile Squadron of the 44th Missile Wing based at Ellsworth AFB, South Dakota. The facility is located on a 6-acre tract of land and is surrounded by two fences. The outer fence is a standard three-strand wire farm fence built to mark the property line and to keep animals from wandering onto the site. The inner fence is a chain link security fence topped with barbed wire that surrounds the launch control facility support building (LCFSB).

The LCFSB is the largest building on the site, providing living accommodations for the LCF crew, a security checkpoint for the Air Police detachment, and housing for the environmental support systems for the underground command center. The LCFSB is a one-story wooden frame structure measuring 33 feet wide and 128 feet long. Adjacent to it is a large garage.

Forty feet beneath the support building is the launch control center (LCC) that commands the ten missiles of Delta flight. To enter the LCC one has to first pass through the security control center manned by Air Force Security Police and then climb down a 40-foot ladder encased within a l0-foot square reinforced concrete passageway. The passageway empties into a reinforced concrete vestibule, the end of which is dominated by an 8-ton steel blast door that goes into the LCC. The door can only be opened from the inside.

The shape of the LCC resembles a huge thermos bottle lying on its side; 59 feet long and 29 feet in diameter. The LCC contains two separate structural elements: a 4-foot thick outer wall built of reinforced concrete and lined with l/4-inch steel plate. Suspended inside it is a box-like enclosure, approximately 12 feet high by 28 feet long, that houses the two-person Air Force crew and the specialized equipment to monitor and launch the missiles.

The LCC described above was of the type used at Minuteman Wings I and II at Malmstrom and Ellsworth Air Force Bases. For the remaining wings, the environmental support equipment for the LCC was moved out of the support building and down into a heavily reinforced launch control equipment building located adjacent to the LCC.

From their underground command center the two officers of Delta flight kept constant watch over ten missiles, each based in a distant launch facility. The LFs are unmanned, heavily hardened facilities that serve as a temperature- and humidity-controlled long-term storage area, service platform, and launch site for the Minuteman ICBM.

The LF contains three elements: the launch tube, a cylindrical two-level equipment room that encircles the top of the launch tube, and an adjacent launch facility support building. The launch tube is a prefabricated cylinder made of l/4-inch steel plate, 12 feet in diameter and approximately 62 feet long. The lower 52 feet of the tube are surrounded by 14 inches of heavily reinforced concrete. The missile rests within the tube, suspended by a three-point pulley system affixed to a series of shock absorbers mounted on the silo floor.

Encircling the upper third of the launch tube is the cylindrical, two-level equipment room. Built of heavily reinforced concrete with a steel liner, the equipment room houses generators, surge arresters to protect the electronic equipment against electromagnetic pulses resulting from nuclear explosions, gas generators to open the silo's 80-ton reinforced concrete door, guidance equipment, and communications equipment to connect the LF to the LCF.

At Delta Flight's D-9 launch facility, adjacent to the launch tube is the launch facility support building. The support building is an underground structure with its roof at ground level. Measuring 16 feet wide, 25 feet long, and 11 feet deep, the support building houses heating and cooling equipment for the launch facility and generators to serve as the auxiliary power supply. The design changed over time. At the facilities built at Wings III, IV, and V, only a corner of the support building was exposed at ground level. At the Minuteman III sites, the support buildings were encased in heavily reinforced concrete cylinders buried deep beneath the ground.