History of Nuclear Missiles Here : "Ellsworth: Inside the Base"

Published: Nov. 9, 2016 at 10:14 PM MST
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It is now a nearly forgotten chapter in the history of Ellsworth Air Force Base.

But perhaps more so --than any time in Ellsworth's existence: the course of American history, and indeed the world, was buried underground, for 3 decades, in silos across our region.

Little known facts about Cold War era Nuclear Missiles---that were ready to launch at a moments notice, right here in our neck of the woods: in this month's edition of 'Ellsworth: Inside the Base':

Nuclear Missiles first became a part of our Western South Dakota landscape in the early sixties...missiles similar to the ones shown here, as Communist Russia and freedom loving America stared each other in the eyes, and dared each other to blink.

Former Missile Engineer Tim Pavek says, "The first one to come here was the Titan 1, and it was operational from 1962 to 1965, was deployed at 3 locations: at Wicksville, Hermosa and Sturgis. Each location having 3 Titan Missiles with the manned launch crews on the same site."

The Titan 1 was short lived, and as tensions escalated, with stakes as high as possible, it was soon replaced by the Minuteman 1, at a feverish pace, and a then staggering 56 million dollars.

Former Missile Engineer Tim Pavek says, (Clip 00 @ 4:44): Construction of the Minuteman Facilities began in September of 1961 and by November of 1963, 165 sites, 150 missiles, were fully operational. This was a tremendous achievement."

Only 6 bases in America were armed with the powerful Minuteman 1, and Ellsworth was the second base to receive them. Just over a decade later the Minuteman 1 was modernized to become the Minuteman ll, a missile that former missile systems analyst Alonzo hall says could travel over 65-hundred miles.

Former Missile Systems Analyst, Alonzo Hall says, "This was a true deterrent. If you look at the engineering that went in behind to design this facility, all the concrete and steel to protect the missile you can see that it was designed as a deterrent, not a first strike weapon."

Steve: What we're looking at here is a now historic site, a silo used at Ellsworth to train Airmen. It never carried an active Minuteman, but otherwise the silo and missile look essentially identical to the real deal. Ellsworth was responsible for 150 Minuteman II Missiles.

Tim Pavek says, "The Ellsworth Missile Field consisted of 3 different squadrons of 50 missiles each that were deployed over a 13, 500 square mile area."

"What you're looking at is the tip of a Minuteman Two Missile. Now if it were active it would have been carrying the equivalent of 1.2 million tons of TNT. That's equal to about a third of all bombs dropped by the U.S. during World War 2."

One improvement of the Minuteman over the Titan was that Launch Control Centers were separated from the missiles themselves, by about 3 to 5 miles.

15 Control Centers similar to what's seen in this picture, each responsible for 10 missiles, and an almost spy novelish security system.

Alonzo Hall says: (Clip 20 at 1:58): Typically what you will see is a Ranch House, non descript top side and then when you go inside the ranch house after going through security, you will go downstairs in an elevator. Then you will approach a blast door. That blast door is a 7 ton steel and concrete door."

These were manned by a 2 man launch crew all day, every day. The one you see here was a trainer used for Ellsworth Airmen. The order to launch would have started with the President, and after a series of steps reached the launch crew. While many think there was a magical button to launch a missile, Hall says there never was. The Red Boxes you see here contained two keys. There was a detailed process where two control centers would both have to turn keys, to launch a missile. That never happened. And in September of 1991 President Bush made an order: and the missiles were decommissioned after a treaty with Russia.

Tim Pavek says, "When the order came to deactivate the missiles, the missiles were taken offline with in 48 hours. A few weeks later the deactivation process began, and that occurred over a 3 year period."

Thirty years of nuclear missiles from 1961 to 91 at Ellsworth, and tense times, became a subject of history, and no longer a series of missiles with enough firepower to change history itself.

So the obvious question is: Does Ellsworth *still have* Nuclear Weapons these days?

And for obvious reasons, it is Air Force policy to neither confirm nor deny their presence.

Intentionally, that, remains a mystery.