Kirtland AFB, N.M. The Air Force is using an aircraft’s long-term maintenance schedule to ensure the health of its Minuteman III fleet, using empty silos under New START as depots for the ICBMs. The Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center here recently did a proof of concept to do in-depth “wingtip to wingtip, tip to tail” maintenance of the missiles like they do aircraft, said Tom Berardinelli, the director of staff for the center. Under the programmed depot maintenance cycle, the service is able to identify problem areas and make replacements before it breaks. However, that has not yet been possible with the ICBM feet. The depot cycle will be an Air Force-owned process with contractor support, unlike aircraft depot cycles where planes return to manufactures for in-depth work. Under New START, the Air Force will go down to 400 silos, which frees up silos to be kept in a “warm status” to do intensive work without impacting the alert status of the rest of the missile fleet. The Air Force is expecting the new method will identify plenty of problems to fix. “We’re gonna find a lot, it’s a 50 year old infrastructure,” Berardinelli said.
More than 100 B-21s will be needed if the nation is to avoid creating a high demand/low capacity capability, panelists said on a Hudson Institute webinar. The B-21's flexibility, stealth, range and payload will be in high demand for a wide range of missions, both traditional and new.