Ordered to be destroyed: Minuteman III is more alive than dead
LGM-30G Minuteman III in the mine
Waiting for Sentinel
The abnormal behavior of an intercontinental ballistic missile is always worrisome. Especially when the combat system of one of the two strongest nuclear powers - the United States - becomes bad.
On the night of November 1, the Americans planned a routine test launch of one of the LGM-30G Minuteman III. The procedure, although exciting, is quite routine - of course, the Russian military-political command was warned, and there was a warhead simulator on board the rocket. Minuteman was sent into the sky from Vanderburgh Space Force Base towards the Pacific Ocean. At the fifth minute of the flight, some anomalies occurred with the rocket, after which the product was given a command to destroy it. Minuteman burned up in the atmosphere, having managed to show off its unusual trajectory to ground observers.
If you believe open data, then after five minutes of flight the LGM-30G Minuteman III should have worked out the last of its three booster stages. Three minutes are allotted for the operation of all rocket engines - after which the bow, equipped with a nuclear warhead, moves by inertia virtually in space at a peak altitude of 1 km. By comparison, the International Space Station operates in much smaller orbits of 120–330 km. Minuteman III flies, or rather falls, at hypersonic speed. The Americans promise the rocket Mach 400 at the terminal stages of its trajectory.
One of the Minuteman III test launches from Vanderberg Base
As it turned out, the failure occurred five minutes into the flight. The fact of such a late anomalous event is alarming - it is not entirely clear where to look for the problem. Some commentators suggest dealing with solid-fuel rocket engines.
Several decades ago, this became the real “silver bullet” of the American defense industry. Unlike Soviet ballistic missiles using liquid heptyl and its derivatives, the solid-fuel Minuteman significantly simplified operation and increased reliability. But everything comes to an end - the storage time of missiles, the most recent of which dates back to 1978, cannot be forever.
The US Air Force has already assembled a team of investigators, which includes representatives from the Air Force Global Strike Command, the 377th Test and Evaluation Group, the 576th Flight Test Squadron, the Delta-30 Space Launch Safety Office and the Nuclear Center. weapons Air Force. The 576th Squadron is unique in the United States - it is the only office in the country whose mission is to test intercontinental ballistic missiles.
In general, people are serious and know their business. Moreover, this is not the first time that Minuteman’s failures have had to be investigated. The rocket is frankly outdated both morally and physically, which is why it often presents surprises. Test products fell in the last century and continued in the XNUMXst century.
One of the first incidents occurred in February 1985 - Minuteman left the Vanderberg base and was supposed to fall to the southeast of Kwajadein Atoll. But it didn’t make it. The atoll has become a traditional target for test launches of American ballistic missiles. It was towards this object that the ill-fated Minuteman III flew on the first day of November. From Vanderberg to the atoll is approximately 6 km, which is more than two-thirds of the maximum range of the missile.
A well-known crash test of Minuteman III includes the rocket launched on June 27, 2011. The product also had to be destroyed over the Pacific Ocean. At the same time, the previous tests on June 10 were carried out normally. A similar situation arose in 2018 - the rocket that left Vanderberg had to be eliminated practically in orbit.
It is ordered to destroy
Even if the Minuteman III’s rather rare failures cannot help but lead Americans to gloomy thoughts. The country has about 400 missiles in varying degrees of combat readiness, but now no one can guarantee high reliability of nuclear defense.
Simple arithmetic - since the beginning of the 2000s, at least three “anomalous” events have happened. This is approximately 2-10 percent of all test launches from Vanderberg. In the most negative scenario, will every tenth ballistic missile fail on its trajectory? Of course, such calculations cannot be called strict, but they reveal a trend. In this case, failures can be different, up to a change in flight direction or simply going into the ocean.
In the event of a nuclear war, the American ground component of the nuclear shield will be similar to a detonating warehouse of pyrotechnics - intercontinental missiles will fly wherever fate dictates. The Pentagon will have to live with this technology until 2030, until the Sentinel missiles, designed to replace all four hundred old Minuteman IIIs, enter service.
This is what the launch of a test intercontinental ballistic missile looks like to ordinary people
The causes and possible consequences of the failure, of course, will be identified by a special commission, and not at all publicly. But experts overseas are already building versions.
One of them is the banal cracking of solid fuel, which changes the nature of combustion. The rocket either received too weak an impulse, or the engines destabilized the product, which is why a characteristic curved flight path was observed from the ground.
Tim Ryan, a senior fellow at the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies, doesn't believe there are age-related changes in the Minuteman III itself. According to him, the cause of the accident could have been the ancient filling of the home shaft and electronic equipment. In any case, as soon as the military reaches the cause, the tests will continue - at least two launches per year are planned in the near future.
We should not forget about the peculiar attitude in the United States towards the land component of the nuclear triad. Currently, silo-based ballistic missiles are deployed across five states and are fairly simple targets. Minuteman III can only be effective in the event of a first strike by the Americans, when a retaliatory strike from Russia or China will catch the already empty launchers. Several decades ago, the Pentagon tried to mitigate the vulnerability of ballistic missiles by installing systems on railway platforms and even on wheels. Nothing good came of the idea - Minuteman III remained motionless.
The low chances of survival of silo-based systems forced the Americans to be distracted by naval and aviation component of the atomic shield. Minuteman III was finalized on a residual basis, which led to a serious lag behind Russia. The LGM-35A Sentinel, which is expected in seven years, can be roughly compared with the domestic Yars, and the LGM-30G Minuteman III only with the Topol. The latter are due to retire next year.
LGM-30G Minuteman III in the mine
This is not to say that the Americans did not work on Minuteman III at all. Keeping your most powerful missiles without proper modernization is, at a minimum, dangerous. Since the 90s, electronic components have been replaced, and in 1998 the solid fuel filling was modified. Updates include the infrastructure of the base silos, 300 kiloton warheads and much more.
The Americans claim that only the casing remains from the previous Minuteman III - the rest has been replaced. Just what was replaced, if rockets, albeit rarely, continue to fall?
The extent to which the disease affected the remaining missiles is not fully understood in the United States.
The ballistic missile and its infrastructure proved too complex to analyze and make decisions about as a result, as accidents continued. Hypothetically, malfunctions could manifest themselves in each of the four hundred missiles, the lion's share of which are now on combat duty.
This means additional expenses for the American budget, since a situation arises where the old missiles are not in the best shape, and the new ones still need to survive. And this is good for Russia news, although not fateful - Minuteman III is still more alive than dead.
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