NEWS | June 18, 2020

1980s: Hill AFB’s role as the Logistics System Program Manager for all Air Force ICBMs

75th Air Base Wing History Office

Editor's note: This feature is part of a Hill Air Force Base 80th anniversary series. These articles will feature the base’s historical innovations and achievements, and will highlight mission platforms that have been operated and supported throughout the decades.

As Hill AFB entered its fifth decade in 1980, the Ogden Air Logistics Center remained the Logistics System Program Manager for the Air Force’s entire Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) deterrent force. The ICBM weapon systems then managed by the Ogden ALC included the LGM-25 Titan II, LGM-30 Minuteman II and III, LGM-118A Peacekeeper, and XMGX-134A Small ICBM. 

During the early 1980s, the Ogden ALC’s organizational structure consisted of multiple directorates. The Directorate of Materiel Management fulfilled the Ogden ALC’s system and item management responsibilities. This directorate was divided into eight divisions, including the Missiles Systems Management Division. While the five branches in this division (Minuteman and Emergency Rocket Communications System Management, Production Management, Engineering and Reliability, Titan System Management, and Materiel Support) played key roles in managing the ICBM systems, a number of other Ogden ALC organizations also contributed to the effort. The Directorate of Maintenance provided essential depot maintenance and modifications, the Directorate of Contracting and Manufacturing accomplished contracts for material and repair support of the systems, and the Directorate of Distribution fulfilled the essential transportation and storage responsibilities for the ICBMs and their supporting equipment and supplies.

In 1983, President Ronald Reagan asked Congress to give “prompt action” to modernizing the nation's ICBM Force. Following three incidents that occurred in Titan II ICBM silos between August 1978 and September 1980, which resulted in the death of one Airman and injury of several others, modernization of the IBCM fleet became a top priority. One result was the deactivation of the Titan II system as its replacement, the LGM-118A (first called the MX and then Peacekeeper), came online.

Rising costs were only one of the considerations in the decision to retire the Titan. Another problem impacting the decision was storage of the volatile liquid propellants used in the two-stage missile. The Titan II used aerozine 50 (fuel) and nitrogen tetroxide (oxidizer), which were stored in the missile itself. They were hypergolic propellants, (spontaneous ignition on contact), therefore, highly explosive and extremely toxic and corrosive. Obviously, safety was a major concern in keeping the missiles operational. The Ogden ALC’s Missiles Systems Management Division played a key role in managing the deactivation of the Titan II system and activation of the Peacekeeper system during the 1980s.

The ICBM Modernization Program of the 1980s also ensured that the Minuteman missile force would remain operational well beyond its initial design life goal of ten years. Already in the 1980s that time had been substantially exceeded by Minuteman II, which became operational in 1965, and Minuteman III, which began deployment in 1970. Ogden ALC played an instrumental role in developing a long-range plan that assessed and recommended actions to be taken in a systematic, timely, and cost-effective manner that would meet modernization program needs.

The many modernization efforts led by the Ogden ALC included such projects, amongst many others, as the remanufacture of Minuteman II and III motors (which involved removing and replacing the old propellant, liners, and insulation of the motors), an accuracy reliability investigation on both Minuteman II and III, development of a Diagnostic Data Package Hardware for use in providing reentry data for Minuteman II flights, completion of a Missile Guidance Electronics Investigation, and an Accuracy, Reliability, Supportability Improvement Program for Minuteman III. These few examples demonstrate the breadth of responsibility for ICBM systems the Ogden ALC managed. 

One facility that enabled much of the missile diagnostic work to take place on Hill AFB was the Hill Engineering Test Facility (now called the Strategic Missile Integration Complex, or SMIC). Originally build in 1965 to support the LGM-30B Minuteman I system, the $12.5 million facility was the first and only complete system engineering test facility for an operational missile in the USAF inventory. A couple of years after its initial construction, the facility added a $16.5 million Minuteman II upgrade to increase the reliability and operational effectiveness of the Minuteman II missile. At that time the facility consisted of an operational launch silo, above-ground launch control facility, instrumentation complex, and guidance test stations. The facility received several upgrades and additions during the 1970s.

During the 1980s, the Hill Engineering Test Facility made possible many modernization projects, which included Minuteman III "B" System Upgrade Brine Chiller modification tests (1983), installation and checkout of a Minuteman Hardened Intersite Cable upgrade (1984), testing of the Improved Minuteman Physical Security System (1985), and operational test and evaluation of the Strategic Air Command Digital Information Network (1986). During the late 1980s, the Hill Engineering and Test Facility again received an important addition. In 1989, the Peacekeeper ICBM test facility became operational.

Hill AFB has played a central role in managing and supporting the nation’s ICBM systems for the past 60 years. Throughout these decades, and especially during the 1980s, Hill AFB provided crucial support to the nation’s strategic deterrence capabilities - just as it continues to do at the present time.