Vacuum Tubes and Mundane Things:

The challenge of maintaining the nation’s Minuteman III ICBM fleet to 2030—as the Congress has asked the Air Force to explore—is more about the straightforward aspects of keeping a 1960s-era design viable that long as opposed to adding new bells and whistles, the head of USAF’s space acquisition arm said March 11. “The real issue is sustaining the basic weapon system, not necessarily expanding its capabilities beyond where it is today,” Lt. Gen. Michael Hamel, commander of the Space and Missile Systems Center, told defense writers in Washington, D.C. “The only question we have at this point and time is what is going to be the rate of problems that we encounter in 2020 to 2030,” Hamel said. “In many cases, you take a look at some of these systems and it is literally vacuum tube kind of technology that we are dealing with. And so going back and having to be able to rebuild, requalify, reengineer components that literally were produced four decades ago, that continues to be a challenge with us. But it is one that we think we are going to be able to manage.” Already the Air Force has pumped in “upwards of $8 billion” into upgrading the Minuteman missiles over the past decade, including new propulsion and guidance sets. Looking ahead, there will be additional modernization projects necessary, some of them “mundane things” like ground handling equipment, he said. USAF has “a very comprehensive program” in place to monitor either for “aging or loss of reliability” across the entire Minuteman III system that allows for “taking corrective actions before that becomes a limitation on the weapon system,” he said.