Time to Start Looking at Minuteman Successor

Gen. Robert Kehler, commander of Air Force Space Command, expressed confidence in the Air Force’s fleet of Minuteman III ICBMs Tuesday, saying the force is nearly modernized to be solvent through 2020, but he said any extension beyond that needs to be examined. The Air Force has made a sizable investment, around $7 billion worth of work that is nearly done on service life extension efforts and infrastructure, Kehler said. “I believe we can extend it to 2030,” he told defense reporters in Washington during a breakfast roundtable, referencing Congressional request that the Air Force study such an extension. He explained: “What I don’t know yet though is how much more investment will be required to [reach that point]. So that gets back to another one of these ‘can you do it; should you do it’ kind of questions.” Depending on the size of the investment, it might drive the Air Force in the direction of looking at an alternative for the land-based strategic deterrent. Even if the Air Force decides to extend Minuteman another decade, Kehler said it is time to consider what a replacement would look like, given the lead time required for such an effort. He noted that the Navy already has committed to a similar program for its fleet of Trident sea-based missiles. Kehler emphasized, too, that any future land-based deterrent replacement would have to include a conventional capability. In his words, “I believe that a deterrent force of the future needs to include from the beginning a conventional alternative.”