Ordered to be destroyed: Minuteman III is more alive than dead

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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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18 comments
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  1. +1
    November 15, 2023
    the most recent of which dates back to 1978

    And how did the gunpowder not crack with time?
    These are shells - if the gunpowder is not damp, then even from the time of Ivan the Terrible, you can take a barrel of gunpowder and try to fire (most likely the gun will be torn apart by overloading the charge, and in general you need to know how, but the gunpowder will work approximately as it should). Not to mention something from the 30s / war period, if it is not rusty, it may well work, because the gunpowder there is not solid, but poured in, either powder or granules.
    1. KCA
      +2
      November 15, 2023
      Solid fuel degrades over time, regardless of storage conditions, I had to shoot from a gun with cartridges loaded 30 years ago, one would work normally, the other would quietly fart
  2. +8
    November 15, 2023
    Unlike Soviet ballistic missiles using liquid heptyl and its derivatives, the solid-fuel Minuteman significantly simplified operation and increased reliability.

    Minuteman's "contemporaries" in the USSR actually flew on liquid fuel, but they were structurally "encapsulated", i.e. filled at the factory, so their operation in terms of maintenance/reliability was no different from solid fuel ones, and the energy characteristics were much better. Do not confuse the R-7/R-16 with the R-36M or UR-100N UTTH
    1. +2
      November 17, 2023
      Not certainly in that way...
      The rocket leaves the manufacturer's factory in a transport and launch container, slightly inflated with nitrogen, for reasons of strength.
      After installation in the silo, the rocket is refueled with propellant components.
      A set of measures called “ampulization” made it possible to isolate fuel tanks from engines and other fuel equipment until the moment of launch.
      those. filled at the manufacturer's factory,

      A fully fueled "Voevoda" weighs about 200 tons!!!
      How can you imagine transporting and installing a product of such mass and, moreover, extremely explosive into a mine?!...
  3. +4
    November 15, 2023
    Even though the rather rare failures of the Minuteman III cannot but lead Americans to gloomy thoughts
    Rare enough? Of the last 16 launches, 8 were considered unsuccessful. More precisely, out of 17, 9 are unsuccessful. With such statistics, if they are correct, I wonder how many of these 400 missiles, during a mass launch, will scatter their entrails throughout the United States, including radioactive ones.
  4. +1
    November 15, 2023
    So their submarine missiles are not young, if I’m not mistaken, they will soon change everything.
    1. +2
      November 15, 2023
      This is where the picture is different... The Trident II D5 SLBM shows the highest reliability and is planned to remain in service for the new SSBN, which is currently in development
      1. +1
        November 16, 2023
        Quote: Military Specialist
        The Trident II D5 SLBM shows the highest reliability and is planned to remain in service for the new SSBN, which is currently in development

        And yet, things in the American strategic nuclear forces are very interesting:
        - "Minuteman-3" has technically and physically degraded and it is unlikely that even 30% of their warheads are capable of reaching their destination.
        - "Trident-2" is in satisfactory technical condition and quite in good shape, which cannot be said about their carriers. Ohio-class SSBNs are very middle-aged, have problems with timely repairs, and not all are combat-ready... And the situation is getting worse. But the new SSBNs will not be available soon, it is not known how they will turn out and will have only 16 SLBMs instead of the Ohio's 24.
        - US Strategic Aviation is also far from perfect - the B-52s are prohibitively old, although they are trying to maintain and even modernize/remotorize them, the B-1Bs have very worn-out airframes, the B-2s are few in number, do not carry cruise missiles, are extremely expensive to operate and are no longer not young... B-21... just took off for the first time and it is unknown what the tests and development of this machine will show.
        As a result, in all its guises the US strategic nuclear forces look... problematic and not very convincing.
        The strategic nuclear forces of the Russian Federation, on the contrary, are very fresh and modern. Especially with regard to the ground component - ICBMs. The SLBMs are so simply new, because not only the Bulava is very young and in good technical condition, but also the liquid-propellant Liner for the five Dolphins, which replaced most of the Sineva SLBMs. And with regard to Long-Range Aviation ... perhaps for the first time in the entire known period, both numerically and qualitatively, our Long-Range Aviation looks much better than its opponents - with numerical parity, our aircraft are in much better condition, and their airborne missile cruise missiles are much better and have a much greater range.
        And then China, at an accelerated communist pace, is building positional areas and actually ICBMs of a class almost like the Soviet “Molodets” and by the end of the decade it will have 1000 nuclear warheads on strategic carriers. And maybe more.
  5. +2
    November 15, 2023
    One thing can be said about this - the more often and longer the Americans have problems testing new missiles and those currently on combat duty, the better. The main thing is not to screw up “involuntary launch”, although this seems to be practically impossible. Well, if they don’t work according to the program and fly to the wrong place (for example, to NATO allies), then that’s their problem.
  6. 0
    November 15, 2023
    This means additional expenses for the American budget

    Why should we care about their budget? Or is this a new idea - to discuss the everyday life of taxpayers in the United States?
  7. +2
    November 15, 2023
    They still have most of their missiles on submarines and not on the ground.
  8. 0
    November 15, 2023
    . Even though the rather rare failures of the Minuteman III cannot but lead Americans to gloomy thoughts

    Nevermind. Rare. wassat From 2 to 10%. In the military system and 0.5%, the party is considered defective. And if there was a warhead there at launch...
  9. +3
    November 15, 2023
    Not surprising. that it was the third stage with the SR73-AJ/TC-1 engine that failed, the fact is that the first and second stages, despite the fact that the first were produced in the early 1960s, the second in the mid-1960s, were refilled with fuel at the beginning of the 1971s , and the third, which seems to be newer (produced in 1977-50), did not undergo this procedure due to technological features, it is fiberglass, and the first two are made of steel and it is quite simple to melt out the old fuel and fill in the new one. What do you want from a 50 year old solid fuel? this gives the reliability coefficient of the rocket in flight - 92%, when the rocket was new this coefficient was -XNUMX%.
    1. +3
      November 15, 2023
      Quote from sergeyketonov
      What do you want from a 50 year old solid fuel? this gives the reliability coefficient of the rocket in flight - 50%, when the rocket was new this coefficient was -92%.

      Sergey, hi Your version is quite convincing. And it coincides in time... I don’t understand this author’s statement:
      the cause of the accident could have been ancient mine filling basing and electronic equipment.

      1. What does the “gun” have to do with it if the projectile successfully left the “barrel”, but for unknown reasons began to deviate from the given trajectory.
      2. It’s not entirely clear: is the “electronic equipment” of the silo or missile meant? If it’s a missile, then it passed all the pre-launch tests (otherwise the launch would have been postponed) and the ICBM received the go-ahead for launch. And if “mines”, then how could it “fool the head” of the rocket if the flight mission is filled in advance before the launch and its entry into the head (more likely the navigation unit) is also controlled (by at least 2 officers).
      For me, there was a degradation of some component of the rocket’s control system, which led to an abnormal deviation from the given trajectory. And this is already much worse than engine failures or degradation of mine equipment. It can explode at the most inopportune moment. And this has already happened to them, though with Titan II /
      an accident in a silo with a Titan-II missile carrying a W35 thermonuclear charge occurred in the USA (Little Rock Air Force Base 35°24′50″ N 092°23′50″ W) in September 1980. On September 18, 1980, at 6:30 pm, during a technical inspection of the Titan-2 ICBM, a fighter dropped a socket wrench. The key flew about 20 meters, hit the casing of the fuel tank of the first stage of the rocket, pierced the casing and fuel began to leak from the tank.
      The commander of the 308th Strategic ICBM Squadron assembled an emergency team, and by 21:00 all installation personnel were evacuated. Another hour later, Air Force field police began evacuating the population.
      Early in the morning of September 19, a reconnaissance group of 2 people sent to the mine recorded the presence of explosive components in the silo.
      At 3:00, the reconnaissance group climbed to the surface and an explosion of 110 tons of fuel components occurred; the shock wave of the detonated first stage tore out the closed reinforced concrete protective device of the mine (lid) weighing 740 tons. The explosion threw the lid 60 meters and landed approximately 180 meters northwest of the mine.
      The thermonuclear warhead W-53 (weighing 3690 kg and with an energy release of 9 megatons) landed 30 meters from the entrance of the complex. Its protective devices withstood this abuse and its radioactive filling was not scattered.
      It was the most powerful warhead ever deployed on American missiles...

      1. +1
        November 16, 2023
        Alexander. Good afternoon. Yesterday I glanced at the text, but didn’t notice it right away - Evgeniy writes “at the fifth minute,” then the third step has nothing to do with it. It works between 120 sec and 180 sec. All the same, the remote control of the RS-14 EMNIP breeding unit most likely malfunctioned, and it is a liquid fuel - asymmetrical dimethylhydrazine, the oxidizer is nitrogen tetroxide. The weight of the entire unit is 200 kg, everything here includes the engine, the fuel, and the platform with cells for warheads. In general, of course, it is very small; the spreading radius is most likely microscopic. If we add to it the weight of warheads 950 kg - three W-62/Mk12 or 999 kg - three W-78/Mk12A, then we get the throwable weight - 1150 kg and 1200 kg, respectively, for example, the breeding unit with fuel for the Voevoda - 4300 kg, for the RSD-10 - 870 kg, it’s true that it has a solid fuel propulsion system.
  10. +1
    November 15, 2023
    "...they promise the rocket Mach 23 at the terminal sections of the trajectory." It is not clear which terminal sections are we talking about? The Mk23A warhead has Mach 12 at the re-entry site (~ 80-90 km), experiences the greatest deceleration at altitudes of 30-40 km (depending on the type of trajectory), and approaches the target at low supersonic speed (nothing can be done - PHYSICS !)
    1. +1
      November 15, 2023
      On approaching the target, the BB speed is about 3 km per second, which is about Mach 9.
  11. +1
    November 16, 2023
    It’s strange why everyone forgot about Petrov and Boshirov? And how it was before! We spoiled the elections for them and poisoned the Skripals. And here it is necessary! Rockets age themselves! After all, at worst they could attract Russian hackers. This is probably because Psaka was more educated than Kuzya.

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